Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Stampede, panic and a hard-earned gold medal

Two fans died in a stampede at the 26th SEA Games football final final in Jakarta on Monday, overshadowing a win on penalties for defending champions Malaysia against hosts Indonesia.

The two men, wearing Indonesian red-and-white football team T-shirts were taken to hospital at 8:30 pm, around 90 minutes after the stampede broke out, according to a report by the Detik.com news portal, which cited a paramedic.

Local media reported that several other spectators had been taken to hospital, including a nine-year-old boy who had fallen into a coma, as tens of thousands of fans swarmed to the Gelora Bung Karno stadium for Monday night's final.

Hundreds of people were packed tight against ticket barriers as police closed the gates shortly before kick-off, with many fans inside forced to crouch in aisles and walkways, according to an AFP reporter at the scene.

"As we were entering the stadium, the crowd of people pushed each other to make their way forward," Helmi, a relative of one of the victims,said.

He said that his relative "was pushed away from me and we were separated. I then heard that some people had fallen and that people had died."

Helmi added that he "rushed to check" and found his relative dead.

Those in the stands endured a nerve-shredding night and eventual heartbreak as Malaysia won 4-3 on penalties with the game deadlocked at 1-1 after extra-time.

Captain Baddrol Bakhtiar stroked home the winning spot kick to give the visitors gold with a 3-4 penalties victory, sparking jubilant scenes on the pitch and silencing the crowd who had hoped to see Indonesia claim its first Games football gold for two decades.

In a game lacking quality but packed with incident, the hosts took a deserved lead after five minutes when centre-back Gunawan Dwi Cahyo popped up unmarked at the back post to head in a corner.

But Malaysia regrouped, despite the deafening roar of the home fans, to equalise in the 33rd minute with a diving header by Omar Muhammad Asraruddin after some suspect defending by the hosts.

Indonesia missed two penalties, allowing Bakhtiar -- who was the game's standout player -- to steal the headlines with a ice cool spot kick into the bottom corner.

Indonesia topped the Games medal tally with 171 golds and a total medal haul of 454 putting them well ahead of second-placed Thailand on 105 first places, but the win most wanted by fans was in the under-23 football event.

Fears the atmosphere could sour were stoked Sunday after fans angered by a shortage of tickets, burnt down a ticket booth inside the ground and besieged the media centre.

"I really hope our supporters behave themselves and support their team in a good way," Rita Subowo head of Games' organisers Inasoc said before the game. Inasoc officials had taken to radio and television to call for calm ahead of the match.

The two nations share a long and bitter enmity driven by political and cultural rows and an fierce sporting rivalry, intensified at this Games by the relentless barracking of Malaysian athletes by local fans.


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