BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN
Monday, February 6, 2012
BRUNEI'S Feb 29 clash against Indonesia promises to be the toughest test of their Hassanal Bolkiah Trophy (HBT) campaign.
The National Football Association of Brunei Darussalam yesterday released the fixtures for the Feb 25-March 9 tournament, with Brunei playing all their Group A games at the Hassanal Bolkiah National Stadium in Berakas.
Though the Sultanate will kick-off the fourth edition of the biennial competition on Feb 25 with a relatively easy game against Laos, and face Singapore two days later, it is the Feb 29 tie against Indonesia that many will have circled on their calender.
National coach Kwon Oh-son felt Myanmar will be the team to beat in Group A, so the Brunei-Myanmar match on Feb 3 will be just as important if the Sultanate wants to qualify for the second round (semi-finals) for the first time in four attempts.
Myanmar were losing finalists to Thailand the last time the HBT was organised in 2007, so it is understandable why Kwon felt they are a threat.
But unlike Myanmar, Indonesia have already tasted success in Brunei after all, they were the champions of the inaugural HBT in 2002.
One of the region's top dogs, Indonesia were beaten finalists at last year's Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Jakarta coming out second best to Malaysia in a thrilling decider which went to penalties.
The SEA Games was an Under-23 event, and the HBT caters to Under-21 players, but that doesn't mean Indonesia are looking down on the tournament.
Andik Vermansyah will be one of the players to watch out for, the attacking midfielder who has drawn interest from Portuguese powerhouses Porto and Benfica one of Indonesia's go-to men at the SEA Games.
Brunei will face the Philippines in their last group stage game of the HBT.
The 2-1 result was Brunei's only win of their SEA Games campaign and the three points put them above the Azkals at the end of group play.
Depending on how the other games pan out, the tie against the Filipinos on March 5 might be just as decisive and could prove the difference between making it to the semi-finals or facing another year of having to watch from the sidelines.
Myanmar face Indonesia on the same day, a game Kwon will be keeping a close eye on.
For the first time ever, the HBT will involve all Asean nations plus guests Timor Leste making for 11 teams and 28 games, which means four of them will have to be played before the Brunei-Laos curtain-raiser to ensure the regional event ends on time.
The cream of the crop is the Feb 24 Group B game between two-time defending champions Thailand and Malaysia, who are themselves two-time SEA Games defending champions.
Other enticing encounters in Group B include the Vietnam-Thailand clash on Feb 28 and Malaysia's match versus Vietnam on March 2.
Malaysia beat Vietnam to claim the 2009 SEA Games title, so another meeting between the two sides although it will be with an entirely different set of players is sure to get hearts pumping.
Apart from the Hassanal Bolkiah National Stadium, the Berakas Sports Complex and Balapan Track & Field at the Hassanal Bolkiah National Sports Complex in Berakas will also be used to host matches.
The Brunei Times