Indonesia issue huge statement as Southeast Asian counterparts falter in World Cup qualifiers

With back-to-back wins against Vietnam over the past six days, Indonesia are now firmly on course to qualify for the third round of Asian qualiifers for the 2026 FIFA World Cup. EPA/LUONG THAI LINH

As most of Southeast Asia's representatives in the second round of Asian qualifiers for the 2026 FIFA World Cup tasted defeat on Tuesday, one team not only managed to pick up a crucial win -- but also issued a statement of intent in doing so.

Indonesia, who only in the previous edition finished bottom of their group with a solitary point to their names from eight outings, are now firmly in contention to march on to the next stage after completing the double over regional rivals Vietnam in the span of six days.

It must be noted that, while their earlier 1-0 triumph last Thursday came on home soil, this most recent victory came in the hostile setting of Hanoi's My Dinh National Stadium -- and it was an even more emphatic display as the Indonesians won 3-0, a result which also led to Vietnam's immediate dismissal of coach Philippe Troussier.

Merah Putih were sent on their way via first-half goals by Jay Idzes and Ragnar Oratmangoen -- both born in Netherlands but of Indonesian heritage who only made their international bow this window -- before a late goal from rising star Ramadhan Sananta sealed the comprehensive win.

The result means Indonesia now sit comfortably in second place in Group F, five points behind runaway leaders Iraq but with a handy four-point buffer between them and Vietnam.

Even if the Indonesians do lose their next game against Iraq on June 6, their fate remains in their own hands and victory over bottom side Philippines in their campaign finale would be enough to seal progress to the next stage of qualifying for the World Cup, as well as an automatic berth at the 2027 AFC Asian Cup.

This latest pair of victories only further illustrates the steady rise they have been making under South Korean coach Shin Tae-Yong, who -- when he was appointed at the start of 2020 -- was widely seen as taking over a nation brimming with potential but with an uncanny habit of underperforming when it mattered most.

Prior to the start of this year, Indonesia had gone six games without a win against Vietnam dating back to 2016 but have now claimed three wins on the trot over their ASEAN counterparts.

The first of those back in January was a crucial result that saw them reach the Asian Cup knockout round for the first time ever.

Apart from that achievement, Indonesia have also reached the last four of the AFF Championship twice, won a first Southeast Asian Games gold medal since the men's football competition became an age-group tournament, and made the last 16 of the Asian Games.

Indonesia still have more to do before they can claim to be the top dogs of the region, but they certainly look to have the best chance of reaching the next stage of Asian qualifiers -- especially after an overall disappointing evening for Southeast Asian football on Tuesday.

Thailand, who have been widely regarded as the best ASEAN team alongside Vietnam in recent times, fell 3-0 at home to South Korea, while Singapore were unable to build on an impressive 2-2 draw with China last week as they lost to the same opposition 4-1 -- even if they did produce another encouraging display under new coach Tsutomu Ogura.

Lying third and fourth in Group C respectively, both are out of the reckoning for World Cup qualification as thing stand.

Meanwhile, after a bright start that saw them beat both Kyrgyz Republic and Chinese Taipei, back-to-back 2-0 losses to Oman -- while hardly embarrassing results -- mean Malaysia have slid to third spot in Group D.

Elsewhere, a real gulf in class was evident as Philippines were beaten 5-0 by Iraq, while Myanmar suffered a 7-0 thrashing at the hands of Syria.

Again, both those heavy losses came against undeniably strong opposition but the margins of defeat do not paint a pretty picture for Southeast Asia.

On an evening to forget for the region, Indonesia deserve credit for the statement they delivered -- even if it did come against one of their own.