Indonesia's youth football team has become a source of national pride for both their performance on and off the field.
Players not only demonstrated their skills, but also their religious tolerance during the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-19 Championship October 8th to 12th, at Jakarta's historic Gelora Bung Karno.
The team's tolerance was on display in matches against Group G opponents Laos, the Philippines and 12-time-champion South Korea. Muslim players stood by the side-lines and prayed while the Christians made the sign of the cross before running onto the pitch.
Celebrating goals, Muslims knelt and lowered their heads to the ground (sujud), in one of the moves of shalat (five-time prayer).
"Without God's help, we will not come this far. And it is our coach, Indra Sjafri, who kept reminding us not to forget God in everything we do; before we ate, trained, competed and when we win," Yabes Roni Malaifani, a Christian player, told Khabar Southeast Asia.
The Rote native recalled how coaches preached the importance of everyone practicing their own religion even as they bonded as a team at training camp.
"The coach and other Muslim friends reminded me and other Christian friends to go to church every Sunday. And it went the other way around to the Muslims, when they had to go to mosque for Friday prayer," Yabes said. "We are family. No difference among us. When one gets sick, the others feel the pain as well."
Their hard work and prayer helped lead to on-field success. Indonesia ended a 22-year title drought in regional tournaments with a 7-6 victory over Vietnam in the finals of the ASEAN Football Federation Cup in September.
In October, they extended their success by securing a spot in the 2014 AFC U-19 Championship finals in Burma, after defeating Laos (4-0), the Philippines (2-0) and South Korea (3-2).
Praise and celebrations
Messages of praise flooded Twitter with fans appreciating the effort and harmony that the team displayed. Account user @bogisudirman wrote: "The national team's performance was outstanding and the religious tolerance they've shown was beautiful."
Another user, @ianmbon, wrote: "In football, religious tolerance is clearly seen. Look at the U-19 national team's goal celebrations! Awesome!!"
The praise kept flowing in the days after.
@AriSiahaan5 wrote: "There are Muslims, Christians, and Hindus on the Indonesia U-19 national team. That's the beauty of religious tolerance :)"
@cahya_satria wrote: "The U-19 national team's celebration after win: the Muslims kneeled down and kissed the ground to pray, the Christians and Hindus prayed behind them."
For his part, Muhammad Hasan, an Imam at Jakarta's Istiqlal Mosque, said football could bring people together in peace.
"It is a good example. I hope this kind of game can inspire others, especially the young generations. Sports indeed can unite people from different backgrounds," he added.
Jakarta native and football fan Meigara Juma agreed.
"It is a positive sign that pluralism is still wonderfully maintained in Indonesia. And the U-19 team has proudly demonstrated it in front of hundreds of millions of Indonesian people, when the television aired the matches," he said. "We still have hope that religious tolerance in Indonesia is still alive."
Andhika Bhakti in Jakarta contributed to this article.