Yee Chun Leong
BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN
Sunday, February 19, 2012
-Defending champions Thailand pull out due to 'unforeseen circumstances'
-Brunei take Thailand's slot in Group B
NEW champions will be crowned on March 9 after defending champions Thailand (pic) pulled out of the 2012 Hassanal Bolkiah Trophy (HBT).
Thailand's absence is not just bad news for football fans, but also for the national team since it resulted in Brunei having a more difficult route to the semi-finals. The Thais' withdrawal was revealed by Dato Paduka Hj Mohd Hamid Hj Mohd Jaafar, the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, during a Press conference at the Green Room of the Hassanal Bolkiah National Stadium in Berakas yesterday.
Brunei were initially in Group A with Singapore, Myanmar, the Philippines, Indonesia and Laos.
Thailand, meanwhile, were in Group B with Timor Leste, Vietnam, Cambodia and Malaysia.
Without the participation of the Thais there would only be four teams in Group B. Hence, Brunei decided to balance out the groups and take over Thailand's slot.
"We received the information on Feb 16 (Thursday). We as the hosts respect and accept the decision by the Thailand Football Association to pull out in the last minute," said Dato Paduka Hj Abdul Rahman Hj Mohiddin, the president of NFABD (National Football Association of Brunei Darussalam).
Thailand cited unforeseen circumstances as the reason for their withdrawal.
"As the hosts we get to choose our group. But, seeing that there is a vacancy in Group B and after seeking advice from the AFF (ASEAN Football Federation), we will have to balance it out," he added.
"According to the tournament rules, as the hosts, Brunei can change to another group."
Despite having to cope with a new and tougher group, national football coach Kwon Oh-son feels that there is nothing to worry about for the Feb 25-March 9 competition.
"It shouldn't be a problem for us. We have been preparing for all the countries participating in the competition and not only those from our group," said Kwon.
"There are good teams in the group, but we will continue to train in the lead up to the tournament and be ready (for the challenge)," he added.
Instead of playing Laos for their opening match on Feb 25, Brunei will face off against Cambodia for their first test.
"We are ready for the opening match. It will be a good match-up since our opponents have been training for a long time as well," said the South Korean.
"We are always looking for a win. The players have a lot of potential and training has gone well.
"The coaches, manager and officials have all worked hard together so we are looking to put up some good results," continued Kwon.
The national coach picked Vietnam to be the team to beat in the group. Brunei play Vietnam on Feb 29.
Yesterday also saw the handover of HBT promotional posters to respective ministries and departments by Dato Paduka Hj Mohd Hamid, who is also the chairman of the HBT main committee.
The HBT is the brainchild of His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam, who desired that a football tournament be organised with the aim of increasing friendship and understanding among Southeast Asian youth through sports.
The organisers expect His Majesty to grace the opening ceremony of the competition on Feb 25.
On the other hand, His Royal Highness Prince Hj Al-Muhtadee Billah, the Crown Prince and Senior Minister at the Prime Minister's Office, is expected to attend the final and closing ceremony on March 9.
The top-two countries from each group advance to the semi-finals, a feat which Brunei have yet to achieve despite hosting the tournament in 2002, 2005 and 2007.
This year's edition of the tournament will allow each team to include five overage players though only three can be fielded in each match.
National striker Adi Said, midfielders Mohd Hendra Azam Mohd Idris and Mohd Najib as well as defenders Md Azri Zahari and Reduan Hj Petara have been chosen as the five players.
Entrance is free but spectators have to obtain tickets at the venue at least one hour before the match kicks off.