JAKARTA (Reuters) – World Cup winners Argentina will visit Indonesia next month for a friendly against its national team, its top football official said on Wednesday, in a boost for a country that has suffered a succession of recent soccer setbacks.
The visit will be part of an Asian tour by the South American side that also includes a June 15 stop in Beijing for a friendly against Australia.
The announcement comes at a time when Argentina is hosting the Under-20 World Cup as a replacement for Muslim-majority Indonesia, which in March was stripped of the tournament over domestic resistance to the participation of Israel.
The friendly will take place eight months after Indonesia suffered one of the world’s deadliest stadium stampedes, with 135 people killed in a scramble to flee as police fired tear gas into the stands in Malang in East Java.
Though soccer is huge in the country of 270 million people, Indonesia has struggled to make its mark in the international game since a single World Cup appearance back in 1938 as the Dutch East Indies.
Its fans are, however, currently on a high from last week winning the gold medal at the South East Asian Games for the first time since 1991.
“This is great momentum for Indonesian soccer to maintain its resurgence,” Erick Thohir, chief of the Indonesian football association (PSSI) told a press conference on the Argentina match.
Erick, a former owner of Serie A side Inter Milan, did not specify the date for the match, which Argentina’s football association said on Twitter would be on June 19.
Asked if captain Lionel Messi would be coming to Indonesia, he said “I believe Argentina will bring their best team.”
The visit had nothing to do with Argentina hosting the youth tournament instead of Indonesia, but was based on “mutual cooperation” between them, he said, adding Inter’s former Argentine defender Javier Zanetti had played a role.
Argentina and Indonesia last met in the World Youth Championship in Japan in 1979, a match in which the great Diego Maradona played. Indonesia lost 5-0.
(Reporting by Ananda Teresia and Yuddy Cahya Budiman; Editing by Martin Petty and Christian Radnedge)
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