Australian Rules Football is as much a wellspring of unity as it is of opposition, and rarely has this been seen in sharper focus than at the 2016 All Asia Cup played in Ho Chi Minh City.
In Indonesia, the fast growing sport of AFL football is played primarily under the aegis of three teams situated at different points of the archipelago: the Jakarta Bintangs, the Bali Geckoes and the Balikpapan Borneo Bears. For different reasons such as logistics, local pride and the sheer number of national and expatriate players involved, the three teams play separately and even against each other in bilateral and multi-team competitions such as the Bali over 35s Masters Competition and the Asian Championships.
But every now and then, for significant international contests, Indonesia sheds the considerable weight of its expatriate players and the national AFL players of Indonesia band together as a whole under the flag of the Indonesian Garudas. The last time was in 2014 when a team of 28 Garudas went to Australia to compete in the AFL International Cup, duking it out against the likes of France, Fiji and India.
In Ho Chi Minh City, the young Indonesian team again had a formidable opposition arrayed against them: the redoubtable China Reds from the Middle Kingdom; and Indochina (an alliance formed between players from five national teams: Cambodia, Viet Nam, Myanmar, Thailand and Laos).
The first match was truly a cracker. A rampaging and committed Indochina threw everything at the Garudas but the Garudas absorbed it and came back with more. The Garudas mobile big men Markus Ria, Bambang Suminarto and the human springbok Vincent Halim put on a deft and robust display. National captain Michael Latuperissa was prodigious at all ends of the ground. In a match of two 15-minute halves, there were 29 shots at goal, with the goal umpires suffering dehydration and Repetitive Signaling Injury. 27 of the shots were by the Garudas and a united Indonesia convincingly put down the five nation force allied against them.
Indonesian Garudas (8.19.67) def. Indochina (2.0.12).
But, as history has shown, containing China was to be a more difficult proposition. China were fast and fit and played like tigers, never weakening until the final siren had sounded.
Wave after wave of goalward thrusts were repulsed by the stout Garuda defence, while down forward Timbul Santoso stood up like the Balikpapanese Colossus that he is, supported by sleek Sherrin seeking corvettes Rizal Putra and Vincent Halim. But, overall, it was the sweat and courage of every player in the team that took down China by two goals and brought the All Asia Cup to Indonesia.
Few remained unmoved as the Garudas from different parts of the country linked arms and sang as one: Indonesia Raya.
Indonesian Garudas (3.4. 22) def. China Reds (1.4.10)