Padang. After losing narrowly in Kolkata to East Bengal 1-0, Semen Padang went into the second leg of its AFC Cup quarterfinal playing in front of a home crowd, confident of a victory.
Confidence faded, however, as the West Sumatran side was unable to hold on to an early lead, despite generating plenty of pressure and chances. In an exciting second half the Minangkabau side was unable to break down the visitor’s rear guard, and ended the game 1-1, meaning the Red Buffaloes will exit the AFC Cup with their heads held high, but with their limitations all too evident.
On a sultry afternoon it wasn’t a game for goalkeepers. East Bengal’s guard, Gurpreet Singh, made a hash of clearance, the ball falling at the feet of Liberian striker Edward Wilson Junior who controlled it well and surged into the box, brushing aside challengers and finishing emphatically.
With 28 goals across both competitions, the long-serving Wilson has almost single-handedly led the team’s assault on honors. And while its lead at the top of the Indonesian Premier League (IPL) may be tarnished by the questionable quality and attitude of the of the other teams, Semen Padang’s performances in Asian club competition have been exemplary.
Wilson has been at the heart of that cup run. So when he had to be substituted just seconds into the second half there must have been a degree of apprehension among the home supporters. The striker has become as iconic for Padang as the local food and the traditionally pointed roofs. Semen Padang without Wilson is not the full monty.
Admittedly the team can call upon the likes of Titus Bonai, Nur Iskandar, Esteban Vizcarra, Vendry Mofu and the experienced Elie Aiboy, the right wing elder statesman, who are all capable on their day of pulling a result out of the bag.
With the big player gone, coach Jafri Sastra would be entitled to expect big performances from the other players. But on the day, when the hour came, no one was able to fill the big man’s boots.
Titus Bonai, a star at last year’s Southeast Asia Games, tried gamefully, as did Mofu, but perhaps they tried too hard. Whereas Wilson is power and pace but can hold the ball up well, Bonai, nicknamed Tibo, and Mofu, have pace to burn but lack the Liberian’s upper body strength and awareness.
Time after time Semen Padang found itself in good positions only for the final ball to go astray or a wayward shot to bring on the fans’ groans.
Contrast this with East Bengal, who saw Japanese attacking midfielder Ryuji Sueoka go off in the first half. They brought on James Moga, and it was Moga in the second half who broke Minangkabau hearts with a powerful far post header that leveled the scores on the day, but put East Bengal ahead 2-1 on aggregate. It was Sueoka who gave East Bengal its 1-0 first leg lead, putting his team on track for the semifinal for the first time in its history.
The loss of Wilson was perhaps the pivotal moment of the game with coach Jafri admitting as much after the game when he referred to “some of the confidence” draining from his players.
However, he couldn’t fault his team’s effort and indeed there were some stellar performances from the likes of David Pagbe at the back and the tigerish Yu Hyun-koo.
But in the end it wasn’t enough. Semen Padang had done Indonesia proud just days after the national Under 19 team won the ASEAN Cup, but there was to be no double celebration in West Sumatra.
With the excitement of Asian club competition behind it, Semen Padang can now go on and concentrate on the IPL, a crown which it is sure to retain at a canter. Next season will probably see it back in a reorganized top flight, but it remains to be seen how this team will compare against the likes of Persipura Jayapura and Sriwijaya Palembang.
After the game, a few Semen Padang fans halfheartedly threw plastic water bottles at the police, but their aim, like their team’s, was off.