When Indonesia was announced as hosts of the FIFA U-17 World Cup, Erick Thohir, President of the Football Association of Indonesia (PSSI), saw it as the perfect opportunity to help grow the sport in Indonesia.
The event is the first FIFA tournament held in Indonesia and the first time that the FIFA U-17 World Cup is being held in south-east Asia. Despite having the fourth largest population in the world and football being the number one sport, Indonesia has not been a regular at FIFA tournaments.
Having appeared in the third FIFA World Cup™ in 1938 as the Dutch East Indies, it took another 41 years for Indonesia to qualify for a second time, when they made it to the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 1979.
“Six months ago, FIFA asked me if Indonesia would be interested in hosting the FIFA U-17 World Cup. It’s an honour for me as an individual but it’s also good for Indonesia if we can host a World Cup event, especially since Indonesian football is undergoing a rebuilding transformation,” said Mr Thohir.
“Bringing the FIFA U-17 World Cup to Indonesia is a step for us to start reframing Indonesian football, where we show the world that we have good facilities: not only the training fields, but also the stadiums, the people, the hospitality, hotels and so on.”
While Indonesia was well equipped with good facilities – including the four impressive stadiums – there was still a short turn-around to prepare for the tournament, after Peru had to withdraw from hosting. Mr Thohir, who spent six years as chairman of Inter Milan and was co-owner of DC United, worked in cooperation with FIFA to ensure the tournament would be a success.
“The process involved a lot of negotiations with FIFA and we have worked hand-in-hand from the beginning, especially in preparing the infrastructure such as the practice fields and stadiums.
“In the end, our infrastructure is beyond expectations. This is something we can show the world: that we are serious about building football in Indonesia” he continued.
With high quality facilities and a greater experience in sports management as a consequence of hosting this event, the nation now has a springboard from which to aspire to bigger and better things.
“The FIFA U-17 World Cup has had a big impact and is a good step for Indonesia. To build our national teams we must develop the youth systems and this tournament has opened the eyes of our community: showing the quality of other countries compared to Indonesia. We need to be very serious in building our football fundamentals from early on.”
While Indonesia did not make it past the group stage, they did create history, scoring their first ever goal at a FIFA tournament when Arkhan Kaka scored the opening goal against Ecuador in front of 30,583 spectators.
Arkhan’s goal also secured Indonesia’s first ever point in a FIFA tournament. In fact, the home nation scored in all three of their matches on their way to two 1-1 draws against Ecuador and Panama, and a 3-1 loss to Morocco, finishing third in their group.
These milestones are representative of a nation that is consistently improving their performances on the field. The national U-23 team recently qualified for the AFC U-23 Asian Cup for the first time, and the senior men’s team is currently ranked 145, a vast improvement on their ranking of 191 only a few years ago.
“In the short-term our goal is to be ranked top 100 in the world. If we continue to build our national teams starting from the youth, our long-term target is for Indonesia to qualify for the FIFA World Cup not as a host, but as a participant” Mr Thohir concluded.