Exclusive: Expanded World Cup format has Indonesia daring to dream

The decision to expand the FIFA World Cup to 48 teams was met with derision in many quarters, but for countries like Indonesia it has given them fresh reason to dream of one day performing on the game's grandest stage...

The idea of Indonesia, who are only beginning the road to recovery after a lengthy FIFA ban, qualifying for a World Cup has been nothing but a pipe dream for their long suffering fans.

But now, with an expanded 48-team World Cup from 2026 onwards, there is a glimmer of hope that one of Asia’s sleeping giants might one day grace the world’s biggest stage.

After so many difficult challenges that we have encountered, qualifying for the World Cup would give us the push that we need

“It (qualifying for a World Cup) would change the face of Indonesian football,” Football Association of Indonesia (PSSI) general secretary Ade Wellington told FourFourTwo.

“After so many difficult challenges that we have encountered, qualifying for the World Cup would give us the push that we need, and give us hope that more and more young lads will choose football as their career and ultimately we can reach the maximum potential of our football industry.

“Whether it’s the league, the national team, the commercial sector, the football fans, everything, we hope it will finally happen – the sooner the better – and we are working towards that.”

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While the plan to expand FIFA’s showpiece tournament was widely condemned, with most of the criticism coming from Europe, Wellington said the PSSI were supportive of the change.

“Of course it is good news and a tremendous opportunity, especially for Asian countries,” he said.

“It will bring an extra motivation for all teams who rarely make it to the final round. Now with extra spots to fight for, I am sure that we can start to dream again, and follow it with hard work to make this dream become reality.

“It will boost the level of competitiveness of Asian football. Each federation will start to lay foundations to achieve this big target. We have seen the gap in quality among Asian countries getting smaller and smaller each year.”

Wellington said the focus of the PSSI was now on grassroots and youth development, looking to build a long-term future that will see Indonesia become one of the continent’s best teams.

“After the ban has been lifted, we are trying to rebuild our football,” he said.

“We are glad that this wind of change has been supported by all stakeholders in Indonesian football. By working hard and concentrating on developing grassroots and youth players we believe that we are going in the right direction.”

Despite decades of corrupt and neglectful administration that has seen the sport suffer, the fans continue to support it, which is why Indonesia is seen as a sleeping giant of Asia.

Did you see how Indonesians were united and stood together when we made it to the final at the AFF Cup last year? We all stood together for Garuda

While other countries may have better infrastructure, governance and more money, Indonesia has a passion for football that is almost unmatched across Asia.

And Wellington said seeing their Garuda on the world stage would be the ultimate reward for their long suffering, but passionate fans.

“It will bring the ultimate joy to all Indonesian people,” he said.

“Did you see how Indonesians were united and stood together when we made it to the final at the AFF Cup last year? We forget about so many differences – instead we all stood together for Garuda, for our red and white flag.

“Here, football is like the second religion and trust me qualifying for the World Cup will bring happiness to everyone.

“We can all forget about our problems for a while and just watch Indonesia play on the biggest stage that we all dream of.”