Persib Bandung midfielder Atep, seen in a game against Sriwijaya FC in February. (JG Photo/Rezza Estily)

Fierce Foes Await Local Sides in AFC Cup

FEBRUARY 25, 2015

Persib Bandung midfielder Atep and his teammates will today square off against New Radiant from the Maldives at Jalak Harupat Soreang Stadium in Bandung, West Java, as part of the 2015 AFC Cup. (JG Photo/Rezza Estily)

With domestic football put on hold following the decision by the Sports Minister to delay the Indonesia Super League on administrative grounds, it is nice to focus on the beautiful game with champions Persib Bandung set to begin their AFC Cup adventure with a home tie against New Radiant from the Maldives today.

Persib’s 4-0 loss away to Hanoi T&T ended their Asian Champions League adventure before it had even got off the ground and they will be hoping Asia’s secondary club competition will allow the team to gel ahead of the delayed start to their domestic campaign.

On paper, Persib’s group offers little in the way of threat. They are joined by New Radiant, Laos Toyota and Ayeyawady United from Myanmar, but recent seasons have shown Indonesian clubs underestimate their Asian peers at their peril.

Back in 2013, for example, New Radiant comfortably brushed aside hapless Persibo Bojonegoro 6-1 in the Maldives and 7-0 on Indonesian soil as they finished joint top of their group. The following year, however, saw Persipura Jayapura defeat the Maldives side home and away as they headed to a semi final spot.

Persib go into their first game still looking to fill the gap up front caused by the departures of Ferdinand Sinaga and Djibril Coulibaly. The club have tested several strikers but coach Djadjang Nurdjaman has yet to make the signing most Persib fans are craving.

While New Radiant boasts a fine pedigree at home (they have won the Dhivehi League, the President’s Cup and Charity Shield in each of the last two seasons), Persib’s other opponents lack any kind of football history.

Laos Toyota were only formed in 2013 and last season — their first in the Lao Premier League — saw them finish second while they also finished runners’ up in the domestic cup competition.

Coached by Englishman Dave Booth, who was in charge of the Laos national team during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Football Federation Cup in 2014 when Indonesia defeated the Laos side 4-1 in Hanoi, Laos Toyota are still very much a work in progress and their debut season in the AFC Cup shouldn’t cause Persib too many problems.

Ayeyawady United are another relatively new name on the Asian football scene. Only formed in 2009, they are coached by Macedonian Marjan Sekulovski, in his second spell with the club, and currently sit second in the Myanmar National League, five points behind leaders Yangon United and with a game in hand.

Despite the club’s lack of pedigree at home or overseas, it would not pay to underestimate Ayeyawady United.

Their previous forays into Asian club football have seen them defeat Kelantan (Malaysia), Navibank Saigon (Vietnam) and Maizya (Maldives) on home soil, suggesting Persib will need to do their homework before they travel to Yangon in May.

The Myanmar side have a slight edge of Persib. In their ranks is Edison Fonseca, a Colombian forward who once plied his trade with Pelita Jaya in Bandung, West Java, and can give his new employers an idea of what to expect.

In what should be a comparatively easy group, Persib’s biggest enemy could be complacency. Not all Indonesian clubs fully embrace Asian club competition; with so much travel in the domestic league many perhaps see the extra flights as a burden but Persipura’s efforts in reaching the semi final of the AFC Cup in 2014 will not have gone unnoticed.

No matter who takes on the goal scoring mantel for Persib, they should have too much strength in the middle and at the back for their opponents. The ability is there but will it be matched by desire on the pitch?

Persib fans who are looking forward to away days in exotic destinations like Maldives, Laos and Myanmar will be hoping their team will have what it takes to propel them into the next round.