09 July 2012

SUKMA/ Football Over and out for Brunei

Jason Thomas
Continued on Page A36
Monday, July 9, 2012
THREE matches, three draws, and the national Under-21 football team have been sent packing from the Malaysia Games (SUKMA) in Pahang, Malaysia.

Considering they lifted the Hassanal Bolkiah Trophy (HBT) in March by beating Indonesia 2-0 to claim the regional tournament for the first time, hopes were high that the team would at least progress past the group stage at SUKMA an Under-21 tournament for Malaysian States which Brunei is participating in as the only invitational side.

But despite fielding seven of the same first-11 players who tasted success at the HBT, the team have been unable to replicate the same kind of results which won them so much plaudits just four months ago, yesterday's 1-1 stalemate with Perlis leaving them at the

bottom of Group C table.

Though they were the only team in their group not to have lost a game, consecutive 1-1 draws with Kedah, Sabah, and now Perlis, also meant they were the only team not to have won a game. The Malaysian States all ended on four points from one win, one draw and one loss with Sabah and Perlis advancing due to goal difference.

Sabah topped the group after beating Perlis 2-1, but losing to Kedah 1-0. Kedah's shock 1-0 defeat to Perlis spelt the end of their campaign.

Unlike the previous two games, it was the Sultanate who took the lead yesterday when Azwan Ali Rahman's deflected free-kick put Brunei in front in the 20th minute. But a scramble in the box after a cross was put in from the left saw Perlis equalise in the 75th minute and book their berth at the expense of Brunei.

Hj Md Rosanan Abdullah Samak blamed his team's poor finishing for yesterday's draw, and while the team's coach was eager to pick out several players who impressed, he was just as quick to pin-point others who did not rise to the occasion influential midfielder Azwan one of them.

"We had three chances to score before they equalised in the second half. We could have won if our finishing was better," said the noticeably deflated coach yesterday.

"Mohamad Taufiqillah Abdul Hamid rounded the goalkeeper, but didn't have an angle to shoot, and then Azwan led a 3-on-1 with players open to his right and left but he shot at the goalkeeper.

"Azwan had another chance but he blasted it (wide) ... I'm also disappointed with (midfielder) Muhammad Nurikhwan Othman and (defender) Mohd Azri Zahari they all just didn't perform.

"Overall I can't be happy with the results. We just maintained our game over the three matches.

"But I can say I am proud of our defence.

"They worked hard, especially the players not in the HBT squad; Ak Muhamad Dinie Hafizan Pg Azman, Muhammad Alif Mahdini and Mohammad Amirul Hamrey Mohd Norshane @ Mohd Saiful Aziz," he added during the interview.

The 1999 Malaysia Cup winner was also of the opinion that Azwan might not have performed due to the fact that key HBT players such as midfielders Md Najib Hj Tarif, Md Hendra Azam Md Idris and striker Adi Said were not in Pahang since they were over the age limit.

The trio were joined by defender Reduan Hj Petara as the team's four overage players at the HBT, the quartet called upon partly because of their experience at the international-level, most notably during last November's Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Jakarta.

But it has become apparent that without the quartet and a home advantage which contributed greatly to the HBT win it is probably too early to celebrate this generation of footballers.

Though questions may be asked why the team were sent to SUKMA instead of the AFC Under-22 Asian Cup qualifiers which ended in Myanmar last week, the answer is there for all too see if they can't beat Malaysian States, then good luck going up against the likes of Japan and China.

The country's next assignment will be the AFF Suzuki Cup qualifiers the draw which will be held in Bangkok on Wednesday.

Brunei will join hosts Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Timor Leste in the Oct 5-13 round-robin competition for the two remaining spots in the tournament proper which is slated for Nov 24-Dec 22.

If the country does send its strongest team possible, chances are that the HBT win is the only thing that Brunei football will be remembered for in 2012.The Brunei Times

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