THERE is just no escaping the International Federation of Association Football's (Fifa) suspension on the Sultanate.
On Monday, the Under-18 team from the Co-Curriculum Department returned from Mokpo, South Korea, without even setting a foot in the Asian Schools Under-18 Football Championship.
It turned out that the Sultanate was barred from competing after Fifa sent a letter to the Korea Football Association (KFA), according to head coach Liew Chuan Fue.
"Actually the tournament had been organised for schools. However since all football competitions in South Korea, even those organised by schools, are sanctioned by the KFA, we were unable to participate," Liew told The Brunei Times.
Since KFA is a member of Fifa, it has to abide by the decision made by its parent body.
"We only knew of the decision a day after we arrived, in a meeting between the head delegations of the respective participating teams," said the head coach.
Brunei has been suspended by world governing body Fifa since Nov 2008 for 'government interference'.
The Football Association of Brunei Darussalam (Bafa) was disbanded by the Registrar of Societies (RoS) for failing to hold annual general meetings (AGM) and submitting annual reports, leading to the Fifa ban.
Expulsion from world football was on the cards but Fifa's Executive Committee agreed to maintain the country's suspension when they met prior to the World Cup in June.
Football Federation of Brunei Darussalam (FFBD) took over control of local football in Dec 2008 but are not recognised by Fifa.
Despite the setback, the outing to Mokpo was not for naught for the 20 young football players.
Though the KFA barred the Sultanate's participation in the Championship, a number of friendlies was set up for the spirit of competition.
The Co-curriculum Department team was put to the test in seven matches four against teams that competed in the Under-18 Football Championship and three against local football academies.
Even at the high school level, South Korea proved itself to be a football powerhouse in Asia.
Brunei were unable to reply against the hosts and Chungang High School, suffering a crushing 0-7 and 0-4 defeat respectively.
Those were, however, the only losses for the team who went on to record positive results from the other five matches: the Philippines (6-2), Mokpo High School (3-2), Tianjin High School (2-1), Macau (3-0) and Vietnam (5-3).
The results will be encouraging for the Co-Curriculum Department's next tournament slated for November, the Asean Schools Under-15 football tournament in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
For those that worry the competition might end up the same way for the Sultanate as in Mokpo can rest easily.
"The situation before only applies to South Korea. We will be able to play in Indonesia. It will be a good preparation, before we host the tournament next year," said Liew, who will also coach the Under-15 team.
It is certainly good news that the Sultanate can compete in the Under-15 edition, but what of the Under-18 players who had dedicated months of training for the competition.
Made up by a majority of the Brunei Youth Team (Under-16) players, they are solely set up to represent Brunei on the international stage.
However as long as the suspension by Fifa is imposed, Brunei's participation in international football will always be restricted.
This shows the gravity of the situation surrounding Brunei football at the moment.
In the tournament proper, Thailand topped South Korea 3-1 in the final to emerge as champions last Friday. Iran won 3-0 in the third-place playoff against Malaysia.
The Brunei Times
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