Indonesia goes Dutch to chase World Cup dream

November 1, 2006

JAKARTA, Nov 1 (Reuters) - Indonesia is looking to plunder the soccer leagues of former colonial rulers the Netherlands in a bid to qualify for the World Cup finals for the first time since independence 57 years ago.

The country's soccer chiefs say dozens of youngsters of Indonesian descent are playing for top Dutch clubs, and they hope to lure them back to give the national team a much-needed boost.

Nugraha Besoes, secretary-general of the Football Association of Indonesia (PSSI), said young players brought up in the Netherlands could be instrumental in taking the country to the 2014 or 2018 finals.

'We discovered some players have Indonesian mothers or fathers, so we sent officials to the Netherlands to watch them,' he told Reuters.

'We are encouraging them to come and play in Indonesia. They play at a much higher standard and we believe this will strengthen our team.

'We will be very grateful if they decide to join us.'

As a Dutch colony, Indonesia -- previously known as the Dutch East Indies -- were the first Asian nation to qualify for the World Cup when it reached the 1938 finals in Paris.

But the years since independence in 1949 have been barren.

Indonesia was watching around 40 players aged between 17 and 23, some of whom were on the books of top clubs like Ajax, Feyenoord, PSV Eindhoven and FC Utrecht, Nugraha said.

The country's soccer bosses hope some will join the national side in time for the ASEAN Football Federation Cup in Thailand and Singapore early next year.

Indonesia's strict laws on citizenship, however, could hamper its hopes of success. Laws stipulate that an individual must have at least one Indonesian parent and be under 18 years of age to hold duel nationality.

Nugraha admitted it could prove difficult recruiting the older players, who must switch citizenship in order to qualify.

'The problem is if they cannot get a passport, they cannot play,' he said.

'They have to change everything, they have to live here for five years. It's not easy.'

Former England and Aston Villa striker Peter Withe, Indonesia's head coach, welcomed the move but said strict rules regarding citizenship could pose a problem.

'I want to have the best players at my disposal, but I don't think many of these players will be allowed to play for us,' Withe told Reuters.

'Everything needs to be done the right way, we can't make players eligible.'

Indonesia's under-23 team manager Rahim Soekasah has been tasked with recruiting the naturalised players, who he said were at the ideal age for the country's World Cup qualification bid.

'Their age average is 17 to 23 years old,' he told the PSSI website.

'it is the golden age for our long-term plan.'