Hanoi. With Indonesia due to play host Vietnam in Saturday’s opening match of the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup 2014, coach Alfred Riedl can be excused a sense of anticipation. The Austrian coached the Vietnamese national team for some six years, undoubtedly putting in the ground work that led to their first ever AFF Cup triumph in 2010.
But Riedl insists that while he still has fond memories of his time in the country, the past, at least as far as football is concerned, is a closed book and he is now purely focued on helping Indonesia lift the trophy for the first time in its history.
“I am happy to be back in Vietnam,” he said on Friday. “I feel very well and hopefully I will feel very well when I leave.”
While other countries like to downplay their chances of lifting the cup, Riedl is upbeat. “I was given the target to win the trophy and I will do the best that is possible.”
This is the Austrian’s second spell with Merah Putih. In 2010, his team brushed aside Malaysia (5-0) and Laos (6-0) on the way to the final, which it ultimately lost against Malaysia.
Back then, it was the likes of Irfan Bachdim and Oktovianus Maniani who turned heads, coming in as relative unknowns and surprising their opponents.
Fast forward four years and Riedl may be hoping history repeats with the inclusion of the promising Evan Dimas. Yet to play in the Indonesian Super League, Dimas was part of the Indonesia under-19 side that qualified for the Asian Football Confederation U19 Cup in Myanmar last month.
Along the way Dimas has furthered his footballing education by playing against the likes of Barcelona, a team that included Luis Suarez.
With Indonesia to play Vietnam on Saturday followed by games against the Philippines on Tuesday and Laos on Nov. 28, Riedl knows a good result in their first game is important to create some momentum; but he, more than anyone, knows the host, roared on by a packed, passionate home support, will be no pushover.
The Merah Putih’s preparations have been sporadic. It has beaten the likes of Pakistan, Nepal, Timor-Leste and Malaysia, while drawing with Yemen and Qatar and losing to Syria; but if there is some cheer, it has been the form of Samsul Arif.
The diminutive Arema striker has scored three times for the national team, and with Indonesia traditionally goal-shy when it comes to away games — it managed just three goals in the group stage in Thailand in 2012 before it was knocked out — Samsul seems to be hitting form at the right time after a long domestic season.
In addition to Samsul, Indonesia boasts the experience of Cristian Gonzales, who made such a dramatic impact when his three goals helped Merah Putih reach the final in 2010, fellow naturalized striker Sergio Van Dijk, now playing in Thailand with Suphanburi, and its own talisman, the pacy Persipura Jayapura forward Boaz Solossa.
As Riedl takes to the dugout for the game at My Dinh Stadium on Saturday night, he may well experience a slight thrill as the home fans welcome him back.
“We have many experienced players,” he said. “We are ready!”