Indonesia 2, Azkals 0 Postgame Thoughts: A Learning Experience

Carlos Alberto De Murga of the Philippines in a duel with Greg Nwokolo (left). Antara Foto/Akbar Nugroho Gumay …

Indonesia's players were in midseason form, and it showed. I took a look at the websites of the top two Indonesian leagues, the Indonesian Super League and the Indonesian Premier League. Judging from their league tables, both competitions are in the middle of the season.

In contrast, the top tier of the UFL is on its break between its League and Cup scheds.

Although the Azkals in the UFL clubs are training regularly, there is still nothing like being razor sharp because of daily training sessions and intense, regular games.

Indonesia looked a tad bit sharper than the Azkals on Wednesday. They were more eager to press, and just seemed to have an edge. Their midseason conditioning carried the day.

Indonesia may have lost every game they played this year going into this game, but they were against extremely tough teams some in ruthless Asian Cup Qualifying. The Merah Putih fell to Jordan, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. Then they lost again 3-0 to the Netherlands. Oh, and two exhibition losses to Arsenal (7-0) and Liverpool (2-0).

No doubt Indonesia were regarding this game as a chance to gain some confidence after so many hidings and tough losses. That's what they got.

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The Azkals did the right thing instead of the popular thing in bringing and playing youngsters. I give full marks to coach Hans Michael Weiss and Dan Palami in giving playing time to OJ Porteria, Amani Aguinaldo, Jerry Barbaso, Misagh Bahadoran, and Marwin Angeles. Plus Mark Hartmann and Jeff Christiaens started.

These lads are the future for the team, and the experience they gained was priceless. I was hoping that Paolo Bugas would get a full International cap, especially with the high number of substitutes allowed, but it just didn't work out.

Patrick Deyto was not given a start but there is wisdom in staying with Ed Sacapaño in such a cauldron like the Manahan stadium. The Green Archer keeper deserves a start soon, but perhaps in the friendlier confines of a home game.

One pundit on Facebook said he was disappointed that we lost ranking points because of the loss. I think that's the wrong way of looking at the game.

We had plenty of veterans in the squad but we also gave valuable playing time to the kids who will be the bedrock of the team going forward. That's more important that the over-valued chase for ranking points.

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Let the crustaceans of social media pillory the team for losing. They should be ignored. The team played to win, and second to that, played to learn.

In my opinion a squad like this should have been fielded as early as the Myanmar friendly early this year. It's a bit late, but I'm grateful that the kids got their run out, especially since there are indications that the U23 Azkals just might be sent to the SEA Games after all.

Azkals still need to sharpen their tactics. Once again, too many speculative hoofs downfield. Not enough linkages between the two banks of four. In attack, Phil Younghusband seemed to cut a lonely figure up top, bereft of meaningful support.

In one telling play, OJ Porteria sent in a useful cross to the center... only there was no Azkal there to receive it.

There wasn't enough midfield cohesion. We aren't expecting Spain-like possession but it would be nice to have a few more passing sequences. A true creative midfield is still a work in progress.

The team did show heart and character with a few late attacks. OJ Porteria had the best chance but declined to shoot early, instead electing to sidestep and dribble for something better. The threat fizzled out.

Indonesia looks good to make a deep run in the 2014 Suzuki Cup. Stefano Lilipaly got my game ball. He showed his intent with two early attempts, then displayed superb technique in pirouetting around to zip the ball to Greg Nkwolo on the first goal, who wasn't well-marked and had the simplest of finishes.

Indonesia's strikers are big, powerful, and crafty. They know how to position themselves in dangerous spots. In attack they are clever enough not to blindly follow the defensive line but sag back a bit, where they can be open to receive a pass.

Patrich Wanggai, Titus Bonai, Boaz Solossa are leading a Papuan revolution in Indonesian Football. Papuans seem to be bigger, stronger, and more athletically gifted than other Indonesian players; at least the ones we see. Oktovianus Maniani is also a Papuan. Getting Greg Nwokolo Indonesian citizenship almost seems like overkill.

How deep is Indonesia? Irfan Bachdim wasn't selected and was hardly missed. Ditto for the speedy Maniani. No room for the highly-touted Andik Vermansyah on the starting eleven, but when he did come in he created headaches for the Azkals, outfoxing Chris Greatwich for a nifty cross into the box.

The Merah Putih are also not old. I Made Wirawan, the keeper, is 31. Substitutes Yustinus Pae and Slamet Nurcahyono are both 30. Everyone else is young or hitting their prime.

Indonesia is a sleeping giant with competitive leagues and lots of terrific players. They are in many ways a mature Footballing nation, far more mature than us. If they can put their political wranglings behind them, it just might be their time in 2014.

This is what the Azkals were playing in front of, at Manahan Stadium, Solo, Central Java, Indonesia. Antara Foto/Akbar …

How about that crowd? One word to describe the home crowd: wow. Gilas Pilipinas enjoyed great home support last week in FIBA Asia, but the crowd in Solo was on a different level altogether.

We saw flags, scarves, flares, and incessant cheering that sounded loud even in my headset. The Manahan stadium looked dangerously over-filled. I didn't see any aisles in the stands, such was the density of the crowd.

There were synchronized colored-card shows that looked like they were lifted from Pyongyang. The “Indonesia Raya,” the country's anthem, seemed to be sung in unison by everyone in attendance.

“Unbelievable atmosphere” tweeted Hartmann.

Hopefully the Philippines can enjoy something similar soon.

At least we have the Peace Cup in October. ABS CBN made me announce it on air, so it must be happening. The Peace Cup will have its second edition in Bacolod. Still no other details.

After a rough night in the land of Nasi Goreng and Beef Rendang, some home cooking will be welcome.

Follow Bob on Twitter @bhobg333.

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