Sriwijaya’s Patrich Wanggai, right, causes problems in the Pelita Bandung Raya box in the ISL season opener in Palembang on Saturday. The sides drew 1-1. (Antara Photo/Feny Selly)

Commentary: Sriwijaya Bulks Up Under Benny


APRIL 06, 2015

The last few seasons have been pretty quiet by Sriwijaya Palembang’s high standards. A two-time Indonesia champion and three-time Cup winner, with two Inter Island Cups and one Community Shield sitting proudly in the club’s trophy cabinet, the Sumatran side has added nothing since it won the Indonesian Super League and Inter Island Cup in 2012.

A barren spell, indeed, but the mood is optimistic in South Sumatra after a preseason that saw Benny Dollo come in as coach and engage in a recruitment policy that promises goals, goals, goals.

Leading the line is Croatian striker Goran Ljubojevic. Signed from Singapore side Balestier Khalsa, the 31-year-old spurned the opportunity to play in the AFC Cup with the Singapore Cup winner for a move to Indonesia following a successful first season in Southeast Asia and marked his debut with a goal against Pelita Bandung Raya.

Ljubojevic is an old-school center-forward, even wearing the number nine shirt. Tall and powerfully built, he is as comfortable with the ball on the ground as he is with it in the air as he showed against Pelita. On one occasion, receiving the ball just outside the area, he made space for himself and unleashed a 20-meter drive that beat the dive of Latvian keeper Deniss Romanovs, only to crash off the upright.

Right on halftime he showed the aerial side of his game after fine work on the right by another of Sriwijaya’s new signings, Patrich Wanggai. His cross into the danger area was asking for someone to connect with, and Ljubojevic was only to happy to oblige, powering home a header from close range.

Wanggai and another new signing, Titus Bonai, announced themselves on the football stage back in 2011 when they starred in Indonesia’s SEA Games campaign that saw them reach the final only to lose on penalties to Malaysia on home soil. But since those heady days the pair have not pushed on as many would have liked. Bonai was offered trials in Thailand with BEC Tero but was not signed, while Wanggai had a season with T Team in Malaysia but was happy to return home when Benny gave him the opportunity.

Both players are currently in the wilderness when it comes to the national team, and even though it was Dollo who stepped in to take temporary charge for a couple of friendlies against Myanmar and Cameroon recently, he showed the pair no favors by not calling them up.

He did, however, use Ferdinand Sinaga. The striker won the ISL last season with Persib Bandung but somewhat surprisingly opted to sign for Sriwijaya rather than stay with the champion.

Despite a prolific season with Persib — he scored 11 goals in 23 appearances — he was surprisingly overlooked by former national team coach Alfred Riedl for the Asean Football Championships in Hanoi last November.

With such an array of attacking options at his disposal, Benny will be looking to the likes of Raphael Maitimo and the 24-year-old Mali international Morimakan Koita to provide the ammunition as well as offering vital cover for the defense. Maitimo brings a fine pedigree to the team, having learned to play the game alongside the likes of Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben in his native Netherlands, and his discipline and ability to get the ball down and slow the pace will act as a balance to the livewire forward players.

It takes time for new players to gel but there were signs against PBR of the threat they pose. The game ended in a disappointing 1-1 draw, but Sriwijaya’s supporters will be purring at the prospect of seeing a new, exciting team come together over the coming months.