Sepak Bola Is Back As 2021 Menpora Cup Kicks Off
With Round 1 of the 2021 Menpora Cup in the books, sepak bola is finally back in Indonesia!
After 12 full months without a ball being kicked in anger on the archipelago, fans up and down the country rejoiced to see their favourite teams take to the pitch again – even if they weren’t allowed inside stadiums to watch in person.
In a country battling to keep the pandemic at bay, four ‘hubs’ have been set up in neutral venues to play host to the group stages.
Matches are being played on the island of Java, at Surakarta, Malang, Bandung, and Sleman.
However, even though matches are being played behind closed doors, it hasn’t stopped some fans from making the trip to cheer on their team from beyond the stadium walls! On Tuesday, Persika Jakarta fans made the 854km journey to Malang to cheer on their team from afar, and could be heard making a cacophony of noise throughout their teams 0-2 loss to PSM Makassar.
While their dedication to following their team is admirable, it has thrown the Liga 1 season into question, with police and officials concerned supporters will travel the country to ‘watch’ games from outside stadiums, which is against regulations to limit unnecessary travel in the country.
2021 Menpora Cup Favourites
Without any games to judge form, and with many international players leaving their teams either permanently or on loan to get playing time elsewhere, picking a favourite to win the tournament has been a challenge.
2019 Liga 1 champions Bali United are in the frame, despite losing influential midfielders Paulo Sergio (released by mutual consent) and Brwa Nouri (on loan) as well as star striker Melvin Platje, who during the January transfer window went back to his native Holland on loan to help De Graafschap win promotion to the top flight.
Heavyweights Persija Jakarta, led by Croatian striker Marko Simic, are always mentioned given their history and prestige, but got off to a terrible start, losing their opening match 0-2 to fellow favourites PSM Makassar.
Sleeping giants Arema are hungry for a trophy, but slumped to a surprise 1-1 draw with lowly Persikabo Bogor in their first match in the competition.
The noticeable appearance of rust was evident in all matches, and as such, no team has asserted themselves as heavy favourites after the first round of match ups.
As such, it seems the winner of the 2021 Menpora Cup will come from a team who is able to find form the fastest, meaning the competition is ripe for a shock winner to come from one of the less-favoured teams.
Group A kicked off with a thrilling 3-3 draw between PSIS Semarang and Barito Putero.
PSIS Semarang roared into a 3-0 lead before half-time, and looked good value to open their account in the competition.
However, a goal from Donald Bissa shortly after the restart gave Barito Putero a lifeline, and their constant pressure was rewarded with two goals in the final four minutes to claim a point.
In the second match, unfashionable Persikabo Bogor took an unlikely lead against Arema, who needed a late equaliser from Dendi Santoso to spare their blushes.
In the ‘Group of Death’ 2017 Liga 1 champions Bhayangkara got off to a fast start, winning 1-0 over Borneo thanks to a second-minute strike from Alsan Putra Masat Sanda.
In the evening match-up, 2018 Liga 1 champions Persija Jakarta took on that seasons runners up PSM Makassar in a marquee match up in the tournament.
PSM took the lead on the stroke of half-time, and doubled it in the 68th minute with a strike from midfielder Yakob Sayuri.
Despite late pressure from Persija, PSM held onto their two goal advantage to lay down a marker for the tournament.
After coming back from a goal down to PSS Sleman, Madura United will fancy their chances of a deep run in the competition after securing a 2-1 win thanks to a late winner from Brazilian defender Jaime.
In the late game Persebaya Surabaya also came back from being a man down and a goal down to beat Persik Kediri 2-1.
While the game wasn’t a classic, it was memorable, as all three goals were scored from the penalty spot.
At the conclusion of 2019 Persiraja Aceh were promoted from Liga 2 to Liga 1, but have had to bide their time to match it with the big dogs as the 2020 Liga 1 season was postponed, then cancelled.
They were able to put their pent up energy into a stunning display in their opening match, crushing Persita 3-1 with three goals in the first half.
In the final match of the first round, Persib Bandung took on Bali United.
Bali United took the lead early in the second half, as Brazilian defender Willian Pacheco bundled the ball over the line from close range.
However, a second yellow card to Made Andhika in the 56th minute handed the ascendancy to Persib Bandung, who forced in an 88th minute equaliser from Frets Butuan.
Round 2 Matchups
As the second round of matches get underway, the stand out fixture is Barito Putera v Arema. With both teams only managing a point in the opening round, they will both be hungry to get their campaign back on track with a win.
Persija Jakarta will be desperate to open their account when they take on Borneo, while Madura United will look to take a stranglehold on their group with a win over Persebaya Surabaya.