10 March 2012

Brunei are HBT champs !

Jason Thomas

Saturday, March 10, 2012

BRUNEI football will never be the same again.

The national team captured the nation's heart last night by claiming the Hassanal Bolkiah Trophy (HBT) after a 2-0 win over Indonesia, a result that only the most fanatic of football fans may have imagined before the start of the fourth edition of the biennial tournament.

The Sultanate's greatest sporting achievement prior to this was the national team's 1999 Malaysia Cup win and last night's triumph trumps that considering the victory came against a national side and one that has long been regarded as one of the region's powerhouses.

Sure, the team had five overage (above 21) players in their ranks, but it was a team effort and a composed all-round play which won Brunei the championship.

Fans filled the 28,000 capacity Hassanal Bolkiah National Stadium in Berakas hours before kick-off, and stormed the pitch after the prize-giving, spent another half an hour taking photos and mingling with the players and coaches a sight that will forever live on in the memories of those present last night.

With His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam presenting his namesake trophy to captain Md Najib Hj Tarif after the match, the smile on the midfielder's face spoke louder than words.

It wasn't always smooth sailing for the hosts though.

Led by their influential captain Andik Vermansyah, Indonesia dominated the opening exchanges and the champions of the inaugural HBT in 2002 looked poised to make it a double if they kept controlling the midfield and starving Brunei strikers of a sight on goal.

But Brunei came out charging in the second half and got their opener from 17-year-old Md Aminuddin Zakwan Tahir in the 48th minute.

Striker Adi Said who was later named the tournament's best player made it 2-0 nearly half an hour later, and a resilient defence would close out the game with a clean sheet despite a late onslaught by the Merah Putih.

Adi's sixth minute shot on target was the first real chance for either side, though Brunei would fail to find their tempo until the half-hour mark while giving away possession cheaply.

Indonesia's Kurniawan had two attempts that were saved by Md Fakhrul Zuhazmi Yussof mid-way through the period, with Brunei's best chance of the half coming from right-back Md Azri Zahari who headed a Md Azwan Ali Rahman free-kick wide of the left post in the 40th minute.

Brunei got a lucky break three minutes after the restart when the Indonesian defence failed to clear a cross from the left, and with Md Aminuddin Zakwan inside the box, the right-winger needed no extra persuading to slot the ball home from close range.

The goal seemed to galvanise the Indonesians though Yosua Pahabol created two chances in quick succession.

Central midfielders Md Hendra Azam Md Idris and Md Nurikhwan Othman were just starting to make their presence felt and the former's injury and the inclusion of centre-back Reduan Hj Petara in the 70th minute didn't seem to affect their new-found rhythm.

Adi who ends the competition with four goals had a hard time finding space or winning aerial challenges, but the former Majra FC player has the hallmark of every deadly striker knowing how to put away chances when they present themselves.

A 75th minute through ball from Md Najib had Adi through on goal on the left and created a two-on-two situation, with Md Najib in support down the middle.

The ever-confident Adi easily dribbled past his marker and slotted past Aji Saka's right, his well-placed shot giving the Bruneian fans the certainty they needed that this would be their night.

Though Andik would threaten late on, the playmaker wasn't able to lift his team on his shoulders like he had throughout the tournament especially with a five-man defense awaiting.

The game's only blemish came after the goal when certain portions of the Bruneian and Indonesian crowd began throwing projectiles at one another, though many Indonesian fans were already streaking out of the stadium by then.

But for Brunei though, nothing can take the gloss away from the most memorable night in Brunei football for years.

The Brunei Times

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