Stefano Lilipaly made his AFF Suzuki Cup debut in 2016, scoring crucial goals in both the group stage and the semi-finals to win the hearts of Indonesians and help his side advance to the final, where they narrowly lost to Thailand.

With the 28-year-old midfielder now turning out for Liga 1 side Bali United, we took a trip to his hometown, Seminyak, to find out what makes playing for the Garuda at the AFF Suzuki Cup so special and get his thoughts on the coming tournament.

How does it feel to play in the AFF Suzuki Cup?

It’s a big tournament and for Indonesia it’s a really important tournament. In the last one we were again runners-up – for the fifth time – so there needs to be one where we can be the champions. Hopefully it’s this year and we bring the trophy to Indonesia because that’s what we’re waiting for.

Can you describe your first of experience of the tournament in 2016?

In the beginning it took a little bit of time to adapt because the stadiums [in the Philippines] were empty so there was not much atmosphere.

But when we got further in the tournament, it began to grow and when we made it through the group stage and played at home, the tournament really started for us.

How about your goal against Singapore that secured qualification to the semi-finals?

It was a special moment for us because we were losing 1-0 and then Andik [Vermansiya] scored a wonderful goal to make it 1-1. In the 85th minute I scored the winning goal to take us through the group stage, so it was a very important goal not only for me but for the team and the country.

Then you scored an equally important goal against Vietnam in the last four..

I think it was one of the ugliest goals I have ever scored but it was an important one, so I didn’t care about how I scored it. It was just a very important goal and another great moment in my career.

How did the fans in Indonesia react to your performances?

They showed a lot of appreciation and love. They sent messages on social media, and it was crazy how it went – a special moment, special tournament and a special feeling. [My family] are really proud I play for Indonesia because we play in full stadiums and it’s an honour to represent your country.

You need to experience the feeling of playing at Gelora Bung Karno Stadium. There can be 80,000 people inside and you will see that in this Suzuki Cup.

What are your thoughts on your group, where you will again play Thailand, Singapore and the Philippines?

I think Thailand have a lot of quality and even without their missing players (playing in Japan and Belgium) they will have one of the best teams. We just need to focus on ourselves – step by step, game by game.

Of course it’s always important to start with a win, so it will be a very important game for us against Singapore. If we can win there we’ll go back to Indonesia feeling positive and it will give us more energy.

It’s good that we play the last game against the Philippines at GBK, that’s an advantage for us. The last game will be really important in front of our home fans.

What did you make of Indonesia’s performance at the recent Asian Games?

For me it was quite a good tournament. I was one of the senior players, and we played quite well. We only lost on penalties to the UAE – we deserved more but this is how football goes. The young players can learn from these moments and build from them in the future.

How did you feel to score the 95th-minute equaliser in that game?

It was also a really special moment because there was so much emotion after the goal. Players started crying on the field and everyone in the stadium was emotional. Even though it did not put us through, it was really special.

I have scored a lot of important goals – maybe there is an angel on my shoulder or it’s just a little bit of luck, but I hope it will continue.

Finally, what is your target for the AFF Suzuki Cup?

The target for everyone who’s playing is to win the tournament but, like I said, we have to take it game by game. If we start talking already about bringing the trophy back it will become more difficult. Of course we want it, but we need to take it one step at a time.

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