Indonesia keep on rising
© AFP

With most national teams inactive over the New Year period, there was little movement in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. However, Indonesia’s consistent rise up the global ladder has raised some eyebrows over the last two months. Ranked 135th in the world and 20th in Asia in November, they wrapped up the year with an eight-place climb to become Asia's best movers, before moving up one more place to 126th at the start of 2011.
 
This progress is the result of their excellent performances during the recent AFF (ASEAN Football Federation) Suzuki Cup, where they stormed into the final for the fourth time, only to lose out to Malaysia over two legs. The region’s flagship competition, previously known as the Tiger Cup, ran from 1-29 December, with Indonesia playing hosts in the group stage.
 
Roared on by their adoring home supporters, the Red and Whites opened in stunning fashion by routing regional rivals Malaysia 5-1, before firing six unanswered goals past Laos. Inspired by their good start, they went on to dispatch Thailand 2-1, a result that booked their place in the last four while condemning the three-time champions to elimination.

In the new year there are a series of qualifying campaigns for the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament, FIFA World Cup and perhaps the Asian Cup, so I hope our side can raise our game and achieve fairly good results.
Indonesia coach Alfred Riedl

The semi-final clashes against the Philippines represented Indonesia’s toughest test. But under Austrian tactician Alfred Riedl, who took over last May, the south-east Asians kept their cool, logging wins both home and away, Cristian Gonzales on target in both matches.
 
The final pitted them against Malaysia, who they demolished in the tournament’s curtain-raiser. Entering the re-match with confidence, the Indonesians were nonetheless caught out by the offensive approach of the hosts in the opening away leg on 26 December. Malaysia took the game 3-0, courtesy of three goals in the space of 12 minutes. Though Indonesia bounced back to win the return match 2-1 at home three days later, it was the Malaysians who emerged eventual victors 4-2 on aggregate.
 
Renewed hopes
Despite missing out on the regional championship yet again, the runners-up marked their best result in the campaign in recent years: in 2007, they failed to progress beyond the group stage, and bowed out in the semi-finals two years ago. The team’s recent performances boosted coach Riedl’s confidence and optimism for their future.
 
“After the first-leg defeat in Kuala Lumpur, we were in a tough position,” commented the former Palestine, Laos and Vietnam boss. “Although we created good chances in the second match, we were really unlucky as our efforts didn't yield a goal in the opening half. I want to thank the whole team for the commitment and discipline that they showed on the pitch. Despite the final loss, they deserve to be proud of their success and the way that they have played in the tournament.”
 
Besides Gonzales, the Uruguay-born striker who also scored in the opening win over Malaysia, captain Firman Utina displayed creativity and leadership to earn the tournament’s Most Valued Player award, while veteran forward Bambang Pamungkas posed a constant threat up front. Riedl paid tribute to the duo after the finals: “I must thank captain Utina and Pamungkas, because they are my right hands on the field.”
 
With the potential Indonesia showcased during the Suzuki Cup, Riedl looks ahead with confidence. "In the new year there are a series of qualifying campaigns for the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament, FIFA World Cup and perhaps the Asian Cup, so I hope our side can raise our game and achieve fairly good results."