22 January 2012

HBT: Harimau Muda the underdogs?

Jason Thomas

Saturday, January 21, 2012

REGIONAL football kingpins Malaysia don't consider themselves favourites to lift the Hassanal Bolkiah Trophy (HBT) next month.

The Malaysian national team have enjoyed a resurgence of late, winning the last two editions of the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in 2009 and 2011 and the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup in 2010.

However, they have moved to downplay any suggestions that they are shoe-ins for the HBT title, a contest for Under-21 teams in the ASEAN region which the Sultanate hosts biennially.

Malaysia are only sending their Under-19 team (Harimau Muda B or Young Tigers B) a move made with an eye to the future.

Malaysian news agency Bernama reported last week that the team are only targeting a run to the semi-final at the Feb 25-March 5 HBT, with their sights set for the same finish at the Feb 17-21 Triangular Championship in Singapore.

Malaysia's decision to send their Under-19 squad to Brunei might bear fruit in the years to come as the nucleus of the team that won the 2009 SEA Games (for Under-23 players) and 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup all competed at the 2007 HBT.

Harimau Muda B's head coach Ismail Ibrahim told Bernama a semi-final berth was realistic as most of the players were new faces from the Bukit Jalil Sports School (SSBJ) and various President's Cup teams.

"Most of the players are new and they are still in the process of finding compatibility between one another," said Ismail.

"We hope several tournaments held in the current season can finalise their playing style. We started training since Dec 17 because some of them had just completed their exams ... their combination has yet to be established.

"I will bring 18 players to both tournaments and I want to see progress in their game," added the former Selangor footballer.

Players who have made a move out include Mohd Nazmi Faiz Mansor and D Saarvindran to the Young Tigers A (Under-21) while Ahmad Faizal Sumar and Muhd Nazrul Kamaruzzaman are now in the Selangor President's Cup squad.

However, the team will be reinforced with new players such as Muhd Ilham Amirullah Razali and Mohd Ridzuan Abdullah Pula from SSBJ and Mohd Akid Ramli from the Kelantan President's Cup squad.

Ismail also hoped the new players could adapt a robust style in both tournaments.

Malaysia's best achievement in the HBT was when they advanced to the semi-finals in 2002 and 2007. However, the team lost 1-0 to Indonesia and 2-0 to Myanmar in each instance.

All 10 ASEAN member nations, plus Timor Leste, have confirmed their participation in this year's HBT. Two-time winners, Thailand, return to Brunei as the HBT's reigning champions. They won the tournament by edging Myanmar 5-4 on penalties the last time the event was contested in 2007 and also beat Myanmar to lift the 2005 edition of the trophy.

Indonesia won the inaugural competition in 2002.The Brunei Times

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