05 February 2011

Croatian Simunic's heart still yearns for Brunei

Jason Thomas
Thursday, February 3, 2011

FOR a few hours it seemed as if the good times were here again.

The players were hanging around laughing and cracking jokes, the management was chatting to each other, and most tellingly, Vjeran Simunic was back.

DPMM FC's former head coach is in Brunei for a week to meet up with the club officials and players during a break in play in Vietnam's football season.

Since leaving Brunei's only professional club in Oct 2009, the journeyed coach returned to his native Croatia for a short stint in charge of NK Medimurje and then took charge of Ho Chi Minh City FC a year later, the club which plays in the country's second tier Vietnam First Division.

But despite enjoying his tenure at the club which has won the top tier Vietnam League four times, Simunic insists his heart still yearns for Brunei.

"I feel the same ... Like I never left. Brunei is a country I will never forget," he said last night.

"When I left I wanted to be in this area, in Asia.

"I was very sad when I left the club because I was sure — we were all sure — we did a great job.

"We beat all the big clubs in Singapore and we were all very proud. I was hoping today we could gather the people who helped create those good results," he added.

There is hardly any local football fan that does not know what Simunic and his close knit band of players have achieved. In May 2009 they captured the Singapore League Cup after a dramatic 4-3 win in a penalty shootout against seven-time league champions Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), becoming the first foreign team to lift a trophy in Singapore football.

They were riding a wave of confidence and were poised to challenge for the Singapore League crown before the International Federation of Association Football (Fifa) banned Brunei from international competitions following the suspension of Football Association of Brunei Darussalam (Bafa) by local authorities.

The suspension prevented DPMM FC from completing the rest of their 2009 campaign, a move which left Simunic and the rest of the foreign players out of jobs.

It also shattered his plans to develop the sport in the country, a job he was more than equipped to handle after guiding the national side during the qualifiers for the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Cup campaign in 2008.

"We wanted to build for the future. I saw how the Philippines played in the recent Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup ... We could have beat them," said Simunic.

"We have players like Shahrazen Hj Md Said and Sairol Hj Sahri who can play anywhere in the Asean region. For me, Fifa made a big, big mistake," he added.

There is no secret that Simunic is waiting for the situation to be solved and for him to return.

After all, he wants the good times back as much as anyone else.The Brunei Times

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