Chinese Faces in Indonesian Football: Celebrated Past, Humble Present

The shorter, edited version of this article is featured at In Bed With Maradona, February 8, 2012.

Ramang vs Soviet

There are many meanings one can attribute to the word ‘achievement’. But in football there are only two. For behemoths, it’s trophy. For underdogs, it’s either that or making a top team suffer. Currently sitting 143rd in the Fifa ranking, Indonesia clearly belongs to the latter category. So as Brazilians recall of their glorious past by counting silverwares in their trophy cabinet, Indonesians can associate their greatest time in football with the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia.

One of the two games they played in the competition turned out to be the best page in the over a century-old book of Indonesian football. It was against the mighty Uni Soviet. Powered by the great Lev Yashin, team captain Igor Netto, and genius attacker Eduard Streltsov, this was Soviet’s golden string playing under Gavril Kachalin as coach. Indonesia played fearlessly throughout the match and managed to survive the opponents’ bombardment. They even nearly scored one themselves through Rusli Ramang, the country’s legendary forward. Yet, neither side conceded a goal.

Indonesian football story actually began long before that match. It began since the country was still referred to as the Dutch East Indies, involving a kind of players that have become rare today: the Chinese.

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