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Soccer-Indonesian side making the most of continental return

Reuters

JAKARTA, Aug 19 (Reuters) - Indonesian champions Persipura Jayapura are making up for lost time and putting the country back on the Asian football map after being one of the many victims in the lengthy boardroom battle for control of domestic football.

Warring factions left Indonesia with two national teams and two domestic leagues at one point in 2012, with world governing body FIFA routinely threatening the Southeast Asian nation with suspension unless they sorted out the problems.

The team from the island of New Guinea, the most easterly side in the top flight, ended up on the wrong side of the infighting with their Indonesian Super League blocked at one point from competing in continental competition.

A truce was eventually reached with the leagues, national teams and separate football associations agreeing to unite and Indonesia allowed to get back to concentrating on matters on the field.

For Persipura, a side who have won three domestic championships in five seasons and finished runners-up in the other two campaigns, that meant improving standards to compete against the best in Asia.

"The two-year hiatus did disrupt their progress a little," Persipura head coach Jacksen Tiago told FIFA in an interview published on Tuesday.

"They went back to the slightly primitive football we used to have.

"The credibility of Indonesian football internationally had been damaged because people saw Indonesia as a real mess.

"Now we are starting to get it back because we are playing in a ratified league competition once more."

IMPROVEMENT FORECAST

The Brazilian, who briefly coached Indonesia last year, will lead his side in the quarter-finals of the second tier Asian Football Confederation's AFC Cup, where they will face defending champions Al Kuwait in the first leg later on Tuesday.

The last eight appearance matches their previous best showing in the competition in 2011.

Top scorer and captain Boaz Solossa, who was forced off early in the 9-2 win over Myanmar's Yangon United in the previous round, believed the club would only improve from the continental tests.

"It means so much that we have the chance to play in the AFC Cup and the AFC Champions League. I think that provides me and my team mates with so much, because if we only play in Indonesia we won't make much progress," he explained.

"Having performed in the Champions League and the AFC Cup, I feel we have gained valuable experience as AFC football is highly developed and professional."

Al Kuwait coach Abdulaziz Hamada was wary of the task ahead of his side, with the second leg in Indonesia next week.

"Indonesian football has improved a lot in recent years and they rely on the pace and talent of their players," he told reporters ahead of the first leg.

"Persipura qualified for the AFC Cup quarter-finals which means that they are good. So I hope that our fans will come and support us to get a positive result." (Writing by Patrick Johnston in Singapore; Editing by John O'Brien)

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