THE national team will open their 39th Under-18 Asia Schools Football Championship campaign against Pakistan today.
Currently in Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand, for the Sept 2-13 event, the side is pooled in Group C with two other countries Iran and Indonesia.
In a text message sent by the Under-18 coach Liew Chuan Fue (pic) on Friday, the former national skipper and 1999 Malaysia Cup champion said there were three groups in the Under-18 competition which has 11 teams in the fray.
Group A will see hosts Thailand face Vietnam and Sri Lanka while Group B has Asian giants South Korea going up against Malaysia, Singapore and Macau.
The tournament in Thailand will also see a Under-15 competition underway, the 6th Asian Schools Football Championships.
The six-team event has Brunei pooled in Group A with Thailand and Sri Lanka while Group B will see Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam do battle. Brunei starts the Under-15 tournament on Wednesday when they face the heavily favoured hosts.
The Under-15 team is coached by Hon Ah Yan and assisted by Andiran Dato Gadong, with Ajamain Hj Othman serving as the manager.
Assisting Liew is Tajul Arrifin Sumpong and Mohd Salihin Abdullah, with Hj Narudin Hj Puteh acting as the team's manager.
The country has also sent two referees, Ali Faisal Rosli and Pg Hj Md Saiful Redzuan Pg Hj Ahmad, to Thailand.
The head of the Brunei Schools Sport Council, Hj Narudin is also the contingent's chef de mission. The 50-member contingent is made up of 20 players and five officials in each age-group.
Brunei was named as hosts of this year's edition but Thailand had to organise the tournament instead because Fifa's ban on the Sultanate was only lifted on May 30.
Despite the country's seclusion from international football for nearly two years, the Under-18 side can be expected to provide a challenge as they will feature several familiar and experienced faces.
Not only have a majority of them represented Brunei at last year's Asian Schools Under-18 Football Championships in South Korea, most of them such as goalkeeper Ron Junior Philip and midfielders Md Aminuddin Zakwan Hj Tahir and Md Nurikhwan Othman also play for Brunei Youth Team, the side made up of Under-19 players which used to play in the second tier of the national football league.
The Under-18 team should have no worries about a repeat of their fiasco in South Korea, where the players were unable to take to the pitch due to Fifa's suspension.
The trip to South Korea wasn't a complete waste of time though, since the players did manage to lace up for several friendly matches.
However, both teams will be looking for a repeat of the country's last foray to Thailand for an age-group competition last September's Asean Youth Football Cup in Bangkok.
The Under-12 team finished second in the Thai capital, though the chasm in class during the final against Thailand, which ended 7-0, wasn't exactly the best way to bow out.
The side still returned to Brunei as the talk of the local football community, the result at the inaugural six-team tournament showing that the Sultanate has a successful grassroots programme.
No doubt, then, that both teams will be aiming to prove the same point this week.
The Brunei Times
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