Thursday, January 10, 2008

RI insists on sending U-23 soccer team to SEA Games

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Matheos Viktor Messakh, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Indonesia says it will send a (men's) soccer team to the 24th Southeast (SEA) Games in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand, despite Sunday's humbling 7-0 loss to Syria in their 2010 World Cup pre-qualifying match in Damascus.

"Don't judge them by that result. Look at their progress over the last three months," an executive with the national task force overseeing soccer, Wianto Soehardjo, told reporters Monday.

Wianto said the national under 23-year-old team, which will represent Indonesia next month at the SEA Games, showed their fighting spirit up until the final whistle.

"Despite the defeat, national coach Ivan Venkov Kolev made a brave decision with a shake-up in the middle of the match to try some new tactics," Wianto said.

With the defeat, Indonesia's hopes of making it to the next round of World Cup qualifying matches were dashed. It lost to Syria 4-1 earlier last week in Jakarta.

Despite the outcome, the national task force for the SEA Games still expects the squad to reach the finals next month at the biannual sporting event in Thailand.

Another official from the national task force in charge of soccer, Setia Dharma Madjid, said they would not drop the team from the Indonesian contingent for the SEA Games.

"The Damascus match was only a warm-up for the team ahead of the Games ... The team already met targets set by the task force," Setia said.

He refused to compare the soccer team to the women's national basketball team, who were taken off the Indonesian SEA games contingent following a poor performance at the Southeast Asia Basketball Association (SEABA) championship in Thailand last month. During the championship Indonesia finished fourth after Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia, not reaching the finals as required by the task force.

At the Nakhon Ratchasima SEA Games, the U-23 soccer team led by skipper Eka Ramdani will play in group A, together with host Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia. Indonesia will take on Cambodia on Dec. 2, Myanmar on Dec. 4 and Thailand on Dec. 7. The group leader and runner-up will advance to the semifinals.

"Our toughest rival in the group is Thailand, so if we can beat Vietnam and Myanmar we will reach the semifinal and then the final. This is the target set by the PSSI," Wianto said.

To gear up for the event, PSSI sent the U-23 team for a one-month overseas stint in Argentina which cost around Rp 2 billion.

Indonesia last won gold in soccer at the 16th SEA Games in Manila in 1991. At the most recent 2005 SEA Games, also in Manila, the team finished third.

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