Jakarta. Indonesia hopes hosting the upcoming Asian Games will help revive the fortunes of its troubled national football team and act as a springboard for their qualification for the 2024 Paris Olympics, the sport's national governing body said.
Indonesia was barred from international football in 2015 due to government meddling in the domestic league, shutting the country out of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup and 2019 Asian Cup.
Football world governing body FIFA lifted the ban in 2016, but the men's team is currently languishing at 164th in the world, slotted between Belize and Fiji, despite the game's huge popularity in a country of more than 250 million people.
"The Asian Games is a starting point and the PSSI [Indonesian Football Association] wants to achieve more than that. If we have to set a short-term plan that would be the Olympics in 2024," PSSI deputy chairman Joko Driyono told Reuters.
Joko said the PSSI and the government were committed to improving football infrastructure at all levels over the next three to five years to support the target.
Spain's former under-21 coach Luis Milla was appointed manager of Indonesia at the start of 2017 in order to overhaul the national squad.
The Asian Games, set to run from Aug. 18 to Sept. 2, are expected to draw nearly 17,000 athletes and officials, and more than 100,000 spectators.
The 24-team men's football tournament, which has an under-23 age limit but permits up to three over-age players, will be played in four stadiums in West Java, while the women's event will be held in Palembang, South Sumatra.
"Of course, we always try to win and become a champion but our primary target is to win the heart of Indonesian people with our performance," Montenegrin-born Indonesian forward Ilija Spasojević told reporters.
Despite the optimism, some fans remain sceptical.
"The development of football in Indonesia is very poor," said Muhammad Ali, 49, after playing a game on the rooftop of an abandoned building in Jakarta.
"As a national team we are still underperforming, we can't even be the regional champion, how can we top Asia's ranking?"