The match had been billed as a chance for Indonesia to restore some pride to a national game recently laid low by a deadly stadium disaster and the loss of hosting the Under-20 World Cup.
Their 5-2 extra-time win achieved that, as well as a first gold since SEA Games men’s football became an under-23 competition - but not before a topsy-turvy 120 minutes at the Olympic Stadium.
On a sweltering Phnom Penh night, the drama began when Indonesia went 2-0 up just before half-time, Muhammad Ramadhan getting his second of the game in controversial circumstances.
He had beaten centre-back Jonathan Khemdee to the ball to loop a shot over the goalkeeper and into the net. But Thailand’s players remonstrated that the ball was not being contested at the time, having been passed back by Indonesia after a stoppage.
Neither their opponents nor the referee were having any of it, and the War Elephants were incensed.
After the break Thailand made most of the running and halved the deficit just after the hour mark via the head of Anan Yodsangwal.
Chances were running out for them, not helped by Indonesian gamesmanship and time-wasting.
But that did not bother the thousands of Indonesia fans among the 28,000 crowd inside the ground, ready to toast a redemptive victory.
When the referee hit his whistle for a Thai free kick deep into stoppage time, many on Indonesia’s coaching staff mistook it for the final whistle, and ran onto the pitch to celebrate.
After they were cleared off Thailand took the free kick and Yotsakon Burapha beautifully worked some space before lashing home a 97th minute equaliser to take the game into extra time.
That prompted the still-aggrieved Thai players and staff to charge over to their opponents’ bench in gloating celebration, sparking the first brawl.
The second, more serious brawl, came when Indonesia’s Irfan Jauhari scored right after the restart, to make it 3-2.
Kicks and punches were landed, uniformed security officials had to intervene in the melee, and Thailand’s goalkeeper Soponwit Rakyart was sent off for running half the length of the pitch to deliver a diving punch to an opponent.
Indonesia’s Komang Teguh Trisnanda and a member of the Thai coaching staff were also sent to the changing rooms.
The referee held a sideline peace summit between both coaches to restore calm. When the game settled back into a normal rhythm, Indonesia ran away with it, with goals from Fajar Rahman and the 21-year-old Beckham Putra.
Their task was made easier by Thailand’s Jonathan Khemdee and Teerasak Poeiphimai getting sent off for second yellow cards, leaving the game at eight versus 10.
Afterwards, Indonesia head coach Indra Syafri reiterated his hope that their success could “wake up” Indonesian football.
On the ill discipline that marred his side’s win, he told reporters on the pitch afterwards: “I regret that friends from both Thailand and our team (had a row). But it’s over, we already hugged and forgave each other. This is football.”
The sport is widely followed in Indonesia, but the giant archipelago nation rarely matches that with on-pitch success.
Mismanagement, rickety infrastructure and violence in the stands have long dogged the game there.
In October, 135 people were killed at a stadium in East Java when police fired tear gas, causing a stampede among spectators.
Tragedy was followed by ignominy when world governing body FIFA relocated the Under-20 World Cup from Indonesia to Argentina because of opposition in the Muslim-majority nation to Israel’s participation.
Indonesia, who are ranked 149th in the world, have qualified for the expanded Asian Cup, which takes place in Qatar in January-February.
Earlier in the bronze-medal match, Vietnam beat Myanmar 3-1 thanks to a brace from Van Cuong Ho.
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