Bali: As the cross floated in from the right, Widodo Putro adjusted his body and, eyes firmly fixed on the ball, perfectly executed the most acrobatic of overhead kicks to give Indonesia the lead against Kuwait in their maiden AFC Asian Cup match on December 4, 1996.
Never before had the Southeast Asian nation qualified for the competition but Putro’s effort announced their arrival in stunning fashion and, in a tournament remembered for an array of fabulous goals, the forward's remains the standout strike and worthy of lighting up any arena.
Twenty-one years to the day since the net bulged at Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Sports City Stadium – in a game that Indonesia would eventually draw 2-2 – the-AFC.com spoke with the now Bali United manager about a goal that will live long in the memory.
“I had to make a fast decision when the ball came across because of the position I was in, and the ball was not in an ideal place to head it,” explained Putro, whose side have just finished second in Indonesia’s Liga 1.
“Of course, I felt really happy to score as it lifted the team’s morale and gave us more confidence going into the next game.”
Ten editions of the competition had passed without Indonesia's presence but, after topping a qualifying group comprising India and regional rivals Malaysia, The Garuda booked their place at the United Arab Emirates.
Their opening-day opponents Kuwait, meanwhile, had pedigree on the continent, having been crowned champions in 1980 on the back of a runners-up finish four years earlier, and were making their sixth AFC Asian Cup appearance.
But the Indonesians were not fazed by the calibre of their opposition and, with 20 minutes on the clock, the speedy Ronny Wabia burst down the right before chipping the ball in, slightly behind Putro, who unleashed his unstoppable effort from 15 yards before reeling off in celebration after writing his name into Indonesia's footballing history.
“Most of the Indonesian fans in the stadium lived in the UAE, so when I scored it was really nice to be able to run over to them,” said Putro.
“I scored two similar volleys in my career for my club but they were a little different because the balls came from a rebound and bounced first.
“All my teammates told me it was an amazing goal and the best I’d ever scored, and the Indonesian football lovers were happy and proud of this team.”
Wabia would then make the score 2-0 five minutes before the interval, but two goals in the final 20 minutes saw Indonesia pegged back as the game ended 2-2.
Putro was again on the scoresheet in the Southeast Asians’ second match although continental giants Korea Republic proved too strong in securing a 4-2 win, before hosts UAE dealt Indonesia a 2-0 defeat to confirm their exit.
The tournament, though, began a run of four successive appearances that culminated in the country’s co-hosting of the event in 2007.
“The team qualifying was very important for the development of the game in Indonesia because, as you can see now, it is very hard for us to qualify and compete in the AFC Asian Cup.
“I’m very proud that I was able to score because it was an historical goal for Indonesian football. It is absolutely the best I ever scored and all the public really loved that goal.”
Photos: Lagardère Sports