Jakarta, Surabaya (19/11 – 20)
With the elimination of their national team on Saturday, Indonesia’s capabilities to put on its finest show as the host of the 2023 Under-17 World Cup will be tested. Indonesia has been given a second chance to host a global football tournament once again, with the 19th Edition of the FIFA Under-17 World Cup, a moving spectacle held in Jakarta, Surabaya, Surakarta and Bandung, from 10 November to 2 December 2023.
This opportunity arrived just months after FIFA stripped out Indonesia’s hosting rights for the 2023 FIFA Under-20 World Cup. The bid wa doomed by protests and political turmoil, surrounding the potential participation of Israel in that tournament. The likes of Bali’s governor Wayan Koster and Central Java’s governor Ganjar Pranowo, currently a candidate for President, pushed against hosting the Israeli team as Indonesia maintains a political stance in support of the independence of the state of Palestine.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo told the nation while “their support for Palestine has always been solid and strong”, the citizens of Indonesia “should not mix sports and politics”. Nevertheless, FIFA pulled the plug in March and the tournament was subsequently relocated to Argentina.
Assumed to serve as compensation for the loss of the 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup hosting rights, FIFA officially appointed Indonesia as the new host of the 2023 Under-17 World Cup in June, as a result of concerns about Peru’s preparedness. So far the 2023 FIFA Under-17 World looks adequate, with the hastily appointed new host.
“What is important is that we prepare ourselves to be a good host,” Indonesia’s soccer federation president Erick Thohir stated. “We are all optimistic that this will go well. FIFA has openly stated that they appraise our standards as higher than those of the countries which usually host the Under-17 World Cup,” Thohir added.
As of 18 November 2023, all group phase matches came off smoothly. Some of the matches scheduled for Bandung were delayed because of bad weather, but that’s about it. Many of the teams visiting from overseas praised the quality of the stadiums and pitches.
Brazil U-17 tactician Phelipe Leal was amazed by Jakarta International Stadium. “This is very crazy. This is a big stadium, it is beautiful and I am very surprised that they can make a stadium like this,” he said.
As of 18 November 2023, there have been 126 goals scored in 36 matches, for an average of 3.5 goals per match, making it one of the most entertaining Under-17 World Cups in history. Several players have already lit up the tournament with their qualities. Fans in the 2023 FIFA Under-17 World Cup may already see the next Mesut Oezil, Sadio Mane, Lionel Messi, or Neymar in the form of Noah Darvich of Germany, Amara Diouf (Senegal), Claudio Echeverri (Argentina), and Rayan (Brazil).
Entering the knockout phase, which will start on Monday, there are, however, certain concerns.
The occupancy of stadiums will be open to question, now that the Indonesian national team was eliminated in the group stage. FIFA sets a target of 10,000 spectators per match in this year’s Under-17 World Cup.
When the Indonesian national team was on the field, that target was easily achieved. There were 30,583 fans when Indonesia played Ecuador. Then, 17,239 supporters showed up for the match of Indonesia vs. Panama and 26,454 cheered on the home team at the last game of Indonesia.
Other matches are struggling to meet the 10,000 target, as the Indonesian tournament has averaged just 8,454 spectators per match. It is actually quite common for an Under-17 World Cup tournament to only record a modest attendance.
Four years ago in Brazil, there were only 3,358 fans per match. But now with the Indonesian team no longer a contestant, it is normal to assume that the currently average of 8,000 fans per match might significantly dip.
Hopefully, that will not be the case, as Indonesia is a football-loving nation. Fans of the sport should not miss their chance to watch the best 16 teams in the world competing in what will be a great knock-out phase, and witness the players who could well be taking over world football in the next 10 years.