On Wednesday, as many devout Indonesians left their respective Mosque after Asr (late-afternoon prayer), a seminal decision was being made almost 5800 miles away in Moscow. The United States, Canada and Mexico will host the 2026 World Cup whereby the tournament’s new format will be expanded to 48 teams, an overall 35% increase in countries competing.
The Asian Football Confederation, which includes Indonesia (and Australia, Saudia Arabia, South Korea, Iran, Japan) as part of its ASEAN Football Federation associations, will see an unprecedented increase from 4.5 teams up to 8 competing in 2026.
Soccer is nearly sacrosanct in Indonesia.
You don’t have to journey far into the Kampungs (villages) to observe a pick-up game on concrete courtyards, dirt patches of land where a dilapidated house once stood or even in small untended parks throughout the urban landscape.
And although another majority Muslim country sighed, again (for the fifth time), in disbelief of Morocco being overlooked for a World Cup, the beautiful Indonesian archipelago of nearly thirteen thousand islands situated in the earthquake and volcanic eruption prone Pacific “Ring of Fire” now stands a chance to compete in North America for one of the most venerable trophies of our time.
There is certainly a burning desire for these kids, who often play shoeless, or in tattered sandals and knock off kits from Liverpool, Real Madrid, Chelsea and Barςa, trying to emulate their idols’ moves in hopes that one day they could be scouted.
To say the odds are formidably stacked against them is an understatement. However, with the prospect of a potential 2026 World Cup appearance there is no doubt that a future star awaits to be discovered in Southeast Asia.
The average age of players at the 2018 World Cup is 27.9. That means the kids currently Indonesia’s professional youth academies have a high probability of competing against the likes of those currently in the Young Socceroos squad, whose alumni once included Mark Viduka.
Passion is progress
World Cup 2026 is still 8 years away, but to compete at this level the Indonesian professional league will require more private investment – something recently observed through the title sponsorship of the country’s potentially first unicorn, GO-JEK.
Weeks ago, I had the opportunity of attending a GO-JEK Liga1 match featuring the local team PERSIB and was impressed (and my car overwhelmed) by the fervid energy kept up by the supporters, amicably called BOBOTOH, even after their team conceded the match through an own goal.
Readers of this blog should seek out local team fixtures during their world travels, because who knows, they may be witness to an undiscovered soccer talent.
So as this entry along with the evening prayers echoing in the valley below come to a close, I am reminded that millions around the world are also preparing to pause for a few moments, plus injury time, to enjoy the beautiful game.