Jakarta: Simon McMenemy will look to tap into his experience as a club coach when he leads Indonesia into their opening Asian Qualifiers tie against Malaysia for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 on Thursday, as the two Southeast Asian nations commence their campaign at a pulsating Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta.
The former Philippines boss – who led Bhayangkara FC to the Indonesia league title in 2018 – will adopt a “one game at a time” approach to life in Group G, which also sees Tim Merah-Putih face off against Thailand, Vietnam and the United Arab Emirates in the battle for places in the next round of qualifying for Qatar 2022.
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“Thinking too far ahead can be dangerous,” McMenemy told the-AFC.com. “It’s very easy to take your eye off the prize because if performances aren’t up to scratch against opposition where we feel we’re on par with them, I might not be around to take our team up against the UAE.
“If I go back to my experience in league football, you have to concentrate on one game at a time. I know that’s an old football adage, but it makes sense. You just concentrate everything you can do on what’s going to happen against Malaysia and once Malaysia’s finished you’ve got three or four days to prepare to play against Thailand, which is a different challenge with a few similarities."
“Then the UAE (in October) will be a different set of preparations about how we go about that because we have to account for the travel as well. When time is of the essence we don’t have a huge amount of time with the players, I think looking too far ahead can possibly confuse the players and take their eye off what’s in front of them.
“Right now it’s being billed here as such an important fixture against Malaysia.”
The UAE, under new head coach Bert van Marwijk, are the top seeds in the group, but their presence has been overshadowed by a draw that has brought four nations from Southeast Asia together in the same group.
Those regional rivalries have stirred up huge interest in the respective nations, and McMenemy is expecting to lead his team out in front of a crowd of around 90,000 at the imposing venue in central Jakarta.
The fanaticism of the Indonesian support is nothing new for the coach or his players, but he admits it is impossible not to be affected by such an electric atmosphere.
“I don’t think pressure is a bad thing,” he said. “But it’s about making sure that when the players come together they understand they’re in an environment where people believe in them and it’s a positive and confident environment.
“I want them to know it’s an environment where when we put our heads down and work hard and then anything can happen. That comes from my experience with the Philippines. We tip our hat to our opposition, but if we can get our game plan working and make it difficult for them then good things can happen."
“Being in Indonesia, one of the flip sides of having so much support is that there’s so much pressure on these players every time they play, playing in front of 30, 40, 50,000 and playing on TV. The media is crazy and the players are a little bit more used to it. We have to utilise that as a tool.
“We’re used to playing in big stadiums, we’re used to playing under pressure. This is where we make our home games an intimidating, difficult environment for teams to come to and we know the players will fly because they’re used to playing in front of that much support. We have to utilise every tool we can.
“The media’s gone crazy for this game. If we have a full stadium that’s better than having a 12th man, that will be like a 14th man. Anyone who can go in there and not have their mentality affected is a better man than I am, that’s for sure.”
While the Indonesians will be backed by their passionate fans, McMenemy has been looking to find ways to break down any barriers that exist within his squad. After each evening meal, three players are selected to stand up and perform – either singing or dancing - in front of the whole squad as the head coach seeks to lighten the mood and build strong bonds between his players.
“It relaxes the environment, everyone’s joking and laughing and for that split second it becomes less serious and we’re a group of friends together,” he said of the festivities. “And once you have that family friendship environment you can really achieve great things."
“I noticed at the last camp they’d eat and then they’d all just go off to their rooms, and that was at 7pm. There was no more socialising or sitting around discussing things and not being on their phones. This brings people together, and we wanted to find a way to keep the players together for longer in a fun environment without doing too much.
“So this idea of having them sing and dance is working and it is quite a lot of fun. And it makes for some great entertainment.”
Photos: Football Association of Indonesia, AFP
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