There was a quiet air of confidence flowing through the veins of the Indonesia camp going into the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup in Hanoi ahead of its opening tie against the host Vietnam. It was optimism tinged with a dose of caution from coach Alfred Riedl, who warned that the players were not fully ready after enduring a long, tiring domestic season.
The camp felt the squad was a healthy mix of experience and young promise and it felt the Merah Putih could mount a serious assault on the biennial tournament it has never won.
That was the atmosphere ahead of the first game. But 10 minutes into the game and even the most die-hard fan would have been heading for the exit as Vietnam swept forward in a never-ending red tide, pinning Indonesia against the ropes and keeping it there.
It took 10 minutes for the home team to break the deadlock — and Indonesia was fortunate it had taken that long. Not for the first time, the Indonesian defense failed and Qu Ngoc Hoi scored his first goal for his country, with Arema keeper Meiga Kurnia out of position.
Vietnam’s pressing was relentless; it didn’t allow Indonesia time on the ball in the midfield, and on the rare occasion when Indonesia did clear its lines, it was usually a long punt forward by a hopeful Sergio Van Dijk, the former Persib Bandung striker now playing in Thailand with Suphanburi, before it came straight back.
And yet somehow, against all this intense pressure, Indonesia equalized when Zulham Zamrun of Mitra Kukar drove home neatly from inside the penalty area. An unlikely goal, but one that showed that for all Vietnam’s tenaciousness in the middle and pace and movement up front, there were defensive fragilities waiting to be exploited.
Despite the goal, Indonesia continued to struggle to have any impact on the game, so complete was the Vietnamese pressure, and things carried on in the same vein in the second half.
Subsitute Le Cong Vinh restored the home team’s lead with a stunning strike from just outside the penalty area and we sat back waiting for the flood gates to open.
With 12 minutes remaining on the clock, Van Dijk was through on goal but never had the ball fully under control, and the Vietnam keeper was able to clear. Under normal circumstances the move would not have been worthy of comment, but in this game it almost counted as an opportunity for the visitor, such was the dearth of chances.
In the 83rd minute Samsul Arif did equalize, his well-hit shot squirming under the body of the home side’s keeper — and how his teammates celebrated.
The last few minutes were nervy for the watching Indonesian fans as Vietnam pressed for a late winner. The visitors seemed incapable of holding the ball and channeling it into safer areas of the pitch. Instead. they continued to concede possession to Vietnam, who, despite going close on a couple of occasions, was unable to find a winner. And when the referee blew the final whistle, they knew two points had been lost with in the 2-2 draw.
After the game, Riedl admitted that Indonesia had been “lucky” and Vietnam was clearly the “better team,” creating “better chances.”
Again Riedl cited the players’ fitness levels after a long season and how the team had little time to prepare, but he also knew Indonesia would play better and lose.
For now he was happy with the point and was proud of his team before adding “we will get better.”
Indonesia now has a couple of days on the training pitch ahead of its next game, against the Philippines on Tuesday.