Indonesia shed decades-long 'nearly men' stigma to win Southeast Asian Games gold but success tarnished by ugly clashes

After years of heartbreak from being Southeast Asian football's perennial bridesmaids, Indonesia finally tasted glory by winning the men's football gold medal at the 32nd Southeast Asian Games -- their first since 1991. MOHD RASFAN/AFP via Getty Images

'Nearly men' no more. Perennial bridesmaids no longer.

After years -- decades, in fact -- of heartbreak from runners-up finishes, Indonesia have gone all the way to taste glory.

But they had to do it the hard way.

And they very nearly threw it away in an ill-tempered men's football final at the 32nd Southeast Asian Games that might be remembered for all the wrong reasons as the Indonesians prevailed over 16-time record champions Thailand 5-2 in extra-time to win the gold medal.

It was all going smoothly for the Indonesians as they made a fast start at Phnom Penh's Olympic Stadium with Ramadhan Sananta's first-half double handing them a 2-0 lead by the break, although tempers were already beginning to flare then.

With Thailand assuming possession was going to be returned to them as play was restarted from a drop-ball, Sananta chased down the long punt forward and got in ahead of Jonathan Khemdee to send a looping effort over a hapless Soponwit Rakyart and into goal for his second.

It was certainly controversial but the Thais will not be able to completely cry foul, given Songchai Thongcham had actually made a hashed attempt at a headed clearance before Khemdee was unable to prevent Sananta from getting a shot away.

The Thais did hit back through an Anan Yodsangwal strike five minutes after the hour mark but it was deep into injury-time, just when it looked as though Indonesia were on the verge of claiming the victory, that matters really boiled over.

As the referee's whistle sounded with seven minutes of injury-time played, the Indonesian camp stormed the field thinking that he had called an end to play when he was in fact blowing for a freekick.

Indonesia eventually realised their celebrations had been premature but right from the restart, the Thais would dramatically equalise through a brilliant effort from Yotsakorn Burapha which ignited their bench -- only for certain members of the team, coaches included, to decide it would be a good move to charge straight to the opposition dugout.

It sparked a melee which saw backroom staff and substitutes alike sent off but amid the heated exchanges, Thailand had forced extra-time.

Within a minute of the restart, Irfan Jauhari capitalised on another Songchai error to put Indonesia back in front with a delightful chipped finish.

This time, the Indonesians decided to repay the favour by heading towards the Thailand technical area, initiating yet another round of fisticuffs that extended onto the field this time -- with Soponwit and Indonesia defender Komang Teguh both sent off for throwing punches and one another which thankfully were not landed.

The melee was intense enough that the preassembled police had to intervene, possibly bemused that it was the stars assembled and not the audience that they were having to control.

While both side were now a man down, Thailand soon found themselves with nine as Khemdee picked up a second booking in the 102nd minute -- paving the way for Indonesia to gain control of proceedings as they led on the scoreboard and in terms of personnel.

Five minutes later, Fajar Fathur Rahman's superb strike effectively put the result beyond doubt but remarkably, Thailand would finish the game with seven men as Teerasak Poeiphimai would also be shown a second yellow moments after Chatmongkol Rueangthanarot had been stretchered off with all their substitutions used.

And as Beckham Putra added a fifth for Indonesia with the last meaningful kick of the gold medal match, it was not long after that they were celebrating glory at last.

A first SEA Games gold medal in 32 years and a maiden triumph since the tournament became an age-group competition in 2001, in which time they had to settle for three silver and two bronzes.

Getting so close yet so far was becoming a common them, with the senior team also achieving six runners-up finishes at the AFF Championship without ever lifting the trophy.

On May 16, 2023, the pain and suffering finally came to an end.

It is just a shame that Indonesia's crowning glory at long last might just be overshadowed by the disgraceful scenes that marred what should have been remembered as an enthralling finale to the 32nd SEA Games men's football tournament.