JAKARTA • Indonesia hopes hosting the upcoming Asian Games will help revive the fortunes of its troubled national football team and act as a springboard for their qualification for the 2024 Paris Olympics, its football association has said.
Indonesia were barred from international football in 2015 due to government meddling in the domestic league, shutting them out of qualifying for the World Cup this year and the 2019 Asian Cup.
Football's world governing body Fifa lifted the ban in 2016, but the men's team are currently languishing at 164th in the world, slotted between Belize and Fiji, despite the game's huge popularity in a country of more than 250 million people.
"The Asian Games is a starting point and PSSI (Football Association of Indonesia) wants to achieve more than that. If we have to set a short-term plan that would be the Olympics in 2024," Joko Driyono, deputy chairman of the PSSI, told Reuters.
He added that the PSSI and the government were committed over the next three to five years to improving infrastructure for football at all levels to support the target.
Spain's former Under-21 coach, Luis Milla, was appointed manager of Indonesia last year in order to overhaul the national squad.
The Asian Games, which will run from Aug 18 to Sept 2, are expected to draw nearly 17,000 athletes and officials, and according to Tourism Minister Arief Yahya, more than 250,000 visiting spectators.
The 26-team men's football tournament, which has an Under-23 age limit but permits the inclusion of up to three overage players, will be played in four stadiums in West Java province, while the women's event will be held in Palembang in Sumatra.
The Indonesian men have not made the semi-finals since 1986.
"Of course, we always try to win and become a champion but our primary target is to win the heart of Indonesian people with our performance," Indonesia's Montenegrin-born forward Ilija Spasojevic told reporters.
Despite the optimism, some fans remain sceptical.
"The development of football in Indonesia is very poor," said Muhammad Ali, 49, after playing a game on the rooftop of an abandoned building in Jakarta.
"As a national team we are still underperforming, we can't even be the regional champion, how can we top Asia's ranking?"