Indonesia's footballers have no fear of Thailand
Indonesia confident of upsetting favourites but Thais say they are unstoppable
THAILAND v INDONESIA
(Tonight, 8.30pm, Singtel TV Ch 134, MediaCorp okto, Toggle Ch 5)
For the Garuda Muda, the cliche "playing each game like it is your last" takes on extra meaning when you consider the predicament the Football Association of Indonesia (PSSI) is in.
Due to government intervention, an indefinite international suspension - imposed by world football governing body Fifa - awaits the Indonesia Under-23 players after the SEA Games.
They were only allowed to take part because they had been given special dispensation.
Until the PSSI is allowed to run football affairs independently, its national teams will not feature in any Fifa-sanctioned competitions, including the ongoing World Cup qualifiers.
This means the Indonesians won't even know when is the next time they can represent their country if they lose to defending champions Thailand at the National Stadium tonight.
In a way, taking part in an overseas tournament frees their minds from all the politicking back home.
As skipper and centre back Manahati Lestusen told The New Paper after yesterday's press-conference at Ramada Singapore, a hotel in Balestier: "We are very disappointed with the news of the suspension.
"But once we step onto the pitch, we forget about all the negative things, and we are happy to play football and do our best.
"We want to show South-east Asia what we are capable of, and we want to qualify for the final."
Victory for the troubled Indonesians will see them edge closer to only their third SEA Games football gold, and their first since it became an Under-23 competition in 2001.
They did make the final in the last two editions, only to suffer heartbreaking defeats - losing to Malaysia 4-3 on penalties after a 1-1 draw at home in 2011, and then 1-0 to Thailand in Naypyidaw, Myanmar two years ago.
Once again, 14-time SEA Games football champions Thailand stand in their way, and the War Elephants are not keen to relinquish their stranglehold. In five Group B matches, they have scored 16 goals and conceded only one.
Thailand Under-23s coach Choketawee Promrut told TNP: "We are in such good form now, I don't think there's anything that can stop us.
"We are more experienced than the title-winning team two years ago because more players have had international exposure at the Suzuki Cup.
"We rested our key players Sarach (Yooyen) and Chanathip (Songkrasin for the final group match against Vietnam) and they are now ready to play."
With star playmaker Chanathip pulling the strings and goals spread across the side - striker Chananan Pombuppha has four, level with Indonesia's Evan Dimas, while four of his teammates have two goals each - they do look unstoppable.
But Garuda Muda assistant coach Zein Al Hadad insists the Indonesians have a strategy to keep a third successive clean sheet and make the final, despite having one less rest day than the Thais.
He said: "In South-east Asia, Thailand are the top team, very fast and organised, but they are not Arsenal or an European side, they are not unbeatable.
"We are a good team too and, if we don't make any mistakes, we can beat Thailand.
"We met our target of making the semi-finals, but we believe we can reach the final and win."
"We are in such good form now, I don’t think there’s anything that can stop us."
- Thailand coach Choketawee Promrut
"In South-east Asia, Thailand are the top team... but they are not unbeatable."
- Indonesia assistant coach Zein Al Hadad
Thailand's No. 1 football fan
- PHOTO: SINGSOC/ACTION IMAGES
Meet Bancha Khamthong, Thailand's No. 1 football fan.
On the Bishan Stadium field, the War Elephants captured the spectators' imagination with their scintillating football during the SEA Games group stage.
Off it, the 49-year-old was the star attraction.
Decked out in his outlandish version of a traditional Thai suit, complete with a glistening crown as his headpiece, it is hard not to notice the man who calls himself "Mr Thailand".
Speaking to The New Paper before the Thailand-Malaysia tie last week, he (pictured) said: "I wear all sorts of costumes.
"I always change my costume at every competition I attend.
"Wearing such costumes adds colour to competition venues, and puts everyone in a good mood.
"That is my objective - to make people happy."
He began his one-man show at the 1995 Games in Chiangmai, Thailand, and has since been to every multi-sport event that Thailand have been a part of.
According to him, the Thai government pays for up to half of his expenses for each trip.
He has also appeared on television a number of times, performing skits and cheerleading routines.
At this SEA Games, he has been spotted at other sports events too, including a netball game between Thailand and Myanmar last week.
"I'm not just a football man," said Bancha.
"I love (Thai midfielder) Chanathip Songkrasin. He's an amazing boy.
"But I also like volleyball, netball and sepak takraw too.
"To be there when Thailand win is always a great feeling, and I think we can pick up 90 gold medals and top the standings."