05 February 2012

An air of optimism for Brunei's HBT squad


Sunday, February 5, 2012

BRUNEI have every reason to be optimistic ahead of their Hassanal Bolkiah Trophy (HBT) curtain-raiser against Laos on Feb 25.

November's Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Jakarta marked the country's return to competitive football after more than two years, and though they didn't qualify for the semi-finals of the Under-23 event, they came up with stirring performances none more so than the 2-2 draw with Laos.

Despite down to 10-men in the 15th minute when defender Reduan Hj Petara was shown a straight red, Brunei would leave the Lebak Bulus Stadium with a share of the spoils after striker Adi Said netted a brace.

Showing spirit, spunk and skill, Brunei came back from 1-0 down to head into the break on even grounds. Adi would give Brunei the lead but tired legs meant Brunei would let in a heart-wrenching equaliser 10 minutes from time.

Nevertheless, the country can take a lot of positives from the tie, especially since a certain few players will know what to expect.

Adi and Reduan will be joined by midfielders Mohd Hendra Azam Mohd Idris, Mohd Najib Hj Tarif and defender Md Azri Zahari as the five overage players for Brunei during the HBT the quintet also lacing up for the Sultanate in the Indonesian capital.

Reduan scored the winner against the Philippines while Mohd Najib scored the only goal in Brunei's 2-1 loss to Timor Leste in the opener - a statistic that means all the country's five goals in Jakarta came from the three players.

The fourth edition of the biennial tournament, Brunei will also go up against Indonesia, Myanmar, Singapore and the Philippines who they also met at the SEA Games.

The Brunei-Philippines tie is one Brunei can look forward to since it was the only team they managed to beat during the SEA Games.

Though the 2-1 result helped them finish above the Azkals - courtesy of goals from Adi and Reduan the win only helped gloss over memories of their 2-1 loss to Timor Leste, a 4-0 defeat to Myanmar and an 8-0 mauling at the hands of Vietnam.

Singapore are by no means pushovers but Indonesia and Myanmar are the teams will give national coach Kwon Oh-son the most to worry about.

Brunei came up with a lacklustre performance against Myanmar during the SEA Games, a display that wasn't helped by defender Muhammad Arif Ali Rahman being sent to the showers in the 67th minute.

It was their second straight game they were forced to play with 10-men, the loss coming after the draw with Laos.

Captain at the SEA Games, Azwan Muhd Salleh also missed the match against Myanmar as did Reduan.

Discipline was a problem for Brunei at the SEA Games since they also finished with 10-men against Vietnam when striker Hamizan Aziz Sulaiman was shown his second yellow 10 minutes from time.

As hosts, the Sultanate will have to lead by example and display sportsmanship and discipline at all times finishing three out of five games with 10-men is simply inexcusable and Kwon must ingrain the importance of keeping a cool head at all times.

Brunei has not advanced past the group stage and into the semi-finals of its own tournament the past three times it was contested, so it's no surprise Kwon feels the team shouldn't be taking any game for granted if they are to stand a chance at breaking their duck.

"They are all important games," he said during Friday's draw.

"From the beginning ... We will look at them all as finals.

"Myanmar were runners-up the last time and they will be the ones to watch out for," opined the South Korean.

Kwon was given a big boost during the draw when it was revealed that Brunei will have a relatively easier route to the next round.

Group B sees defending champions Thailand going up against SEA Games titleholders Malaysia, Cambodia, Timor Leste and Vietnam.

Thailand beat Myanmar 5-4 on penalties the last time the HBT was contested in 2007. They also saw off Indonesia to lift the 2005 edition of the trophy. Indonesia were the inaugural champions after defeating Malaysia in the 2002 final.-Jason Thomas

The Brunei Times

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