Indonesia came to play at the AFC U-23 Asian Cup – and that’s why they can still believe in the Olympic quest

A battle display. Back against the wall. Courageous defeats. Held for a gritty upset.

These terms don’t necessarily always have negative connotations, but they do often paint a certain picture: one of outsiders – even minnows perhaps – playing stubbornly defensive football in the desperate hope of getting a result against superior opposition.

When it comes to tournament football, this is a fairly frequent occurrence.

On their debut at the AFC U-23 Asian Cup, that was not what Indonesia opted for.

Instead, they came to play.

Throughout the competition they were a breath of fresh air, producing free-flowing – sometimes exciting – football that fooled many an opponent.

Elaborate but complex one-touch football would produce some fantastic goals that will be looked back on fondly for years to come.

In the end, it simply wasn’t enough to secure automatic qualification for what would have been a first appearance in the Olympic Games men’s football tournament since 1956.

Despite taking the lead through a fine long-range effort from Ivar Jenner, Indonesia would eventually succumb, losing 2-1 to Iraq after extra time in Thursday’s third-place play-off.

It is the Iraqis who will join Japan and Uzbekistan – who face each other in the final on Friday – as Asia’s three guaranteed representatives in Paris later this year.

As chins dropped and bodies fell to the ground in despair at the final whistle, Indonesia had just run out of steam after a monumental effort over the past two weeks.

Yet all is not lost. Far from it.

There is now talk of an intercontinental qualifier against Guinea next Thursday.

If they win, Indonesia can still achieve their Olympic dream. Based on what they served at the U-23 Asian Cup, there’s no reason why they can’t do that.

As long as they start playing.

As they did when they sealed their progress in the group stages with a stunning 4-1 win over Jordan.

As they did when they also had some luck on their side – as is usually necessary when you play the game against a more formidable opponent – ​​in a campaign that saw a 1-0 win over Australia.

As they did when they upset South Korea in the quarter-finals and emerged victorious in a marathon penalty shootout that defied all expectations – which ended 11-10 in their favor.

Nevertheless, the legs and – perhaps more importantly – the mind will be tired, especially after the joy and despair of the past few weeks.

It is now the job of Indonesia coach Shin Tae-Yong to cheer up his players in time for their date with Guinea in Clairefontaine.

Given the time that will be spent traveling and settling in France, the Indonesians will not have long to prepare for the do-or-die clash.

But if there is one thing they showed at the U-23 Asian Cup, this young and talented team from Indonesia is not afraid of adversity.

They should welcome back captain Rizky Ridho, who was suspended for the third-place play-offs, and he will immediately add stability and an air of assurance to a defense that has looked disorganized at times against Iraq.

This should also free up Nathan Tjoe-A-On in midfield to renew his impressive partnership with Ivar Jenner, with the duo crucial in their team’s changes to win the engine room battle against Guinea.

And in Marselino Ferdinan and Witan Sulaeman, Indonesia have two real game changers who could potentially win the tie through sheer individual brilliance.

Indonesia can still believe in that, even though they fell short on Thursday.

They might not have been one of the three teams to automatically clinch an Olympic spot at the U-23 Asian Cup.

But at the Paris Games they could still make it four teams from Asia within a week.