Indonesia out of AFC U-23 Asian Cup contention but Shin Tae-Yong's youth movement could still deliver Olympic berth

Indonesia's quest to win the 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup came to an end with a 2-0 loss to Uzbekistan in Monday's semifinals, but they remain a chance to qualify for the men's football tournament at the Olympic Games later this year. Noushad Thekkayil/NurPhoto via Getty Images

In the end, it was ultimately not to be for Indonesia.

In their maiden AFC U-23 Asian Cup appearance, they have done so well over the past fortnight to see off the likes of Australia, Jordan and South Korea to reach the semifinals -- but they came up just short on Monday evening with a 2-0 loss to Uzbekistan.

Regardless of the fact they narrowly failed in an unlikely but inspirational quest to go all the way, the Indonesians can look back with plenty of pride on their campaign -- which still is not over.

With the U-23 Asian Cup also doubling up as the continent's qualification process for the Olympics in Paris later this year, Indonesia are still in with a chance of reaching the Games for the first time since 1956.

Victory over Iraq in Thursday's third-place match will guarantee their progress.

Even if they suffer defeat, they still stand a chance with the fourth-placed team at the U-23 Asian Cup set to take on African outfit Guinea in an intercontinental playoff.

And should Indonesia do go on to reach the Olympics, it will complete a remarkable rise from when they were down in the doldrums not too long ago, in which coach Shin Tae-Yong deserves plenty of credit.

When Shin took over at the end of 2019, Indonesia were ranked 173rd in the FIFA world rankings.

There had been off-field strife over the past decade after two FIFA suspensions, and they had failed to make it out of the group stage of the AFF Championship -- Southeast Asia's premier international tournament which they were usually title contenders -- in three of the previous four editions dating back to 2012.

Shin's reign did not get off to the best of starts as he suffered as his second and third competitive matches at the helm resulted in heavy 4-0 and 5-0 defeats to Vietnam and United Arab Emirates respectively.

Yet, even early on in his tenure, it was clear that Shin -- who memorably coached South Korea to a 2-0 win over Germany that eliminated the then-champions from the group stage of the 2018 FIFA World Cup -- was determined to put his faith in youth.

It was never going to be an overnight process and Shin initially still had to rely on stalwarts from previous generations such as Evan Dimas, Victor Igbonefo and Ricky Kambuaya for experienced heads as the likes of Witan Sulaeman, Pratama Arhan and Rizky Ridho found their feet at senior international level.

Still, in a sign of things to come, the squad that kickstarted Indonesia's resurgence by reaching the 2020 AFF Championship final -- which was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic to the end of 2021 -- had just an average age of 23.

And players like Witan, Rizky and Marselino Ferdinan started to gain more exposure despite their relative youth, it was only a matter of time before Shin's faith in youth would pay off.

Earlier this year, Indonesia reached the knockout round of the AFC Asian Cup for the first time with an average age of 24.

Still only 22, Witan was the most experienced member of Indonesia's most recent senior team that contested the Asian qualifiers for the 2026 World Cup back in March with 44 caps, while Asnawi Mangkualam, Rizky and Marselino are not far behind with 41, 36 and 23 international appearances respectively, despite still being relatively precocious talents.

The benefit of giving valuable senior exposure to such players at a young age also meant that, while they are still eligible for the ongoing U-23 Asian Cup, a total of 14 members of the 23-man squad already have full international experience -- the most of any team at the tournament.

This had paid off, from the way that Indonesia have not looked overawed at the U-23 Asian Cup despite coming up against some of the continent's traditional powerhouses, as well as the familiarity they have in employing Shin's systems and the fluidity that only comes with playing together for a prolonged period of time.

A youth movement that Shin implemented over four years ago has bore fruit -- and it could yet reap its biggest reward in the form of a ticket to the Paris Olympics.