BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
NOT ONLY will tonight's friendly match against Indonesia provide the national team a valuable warm-up ahead of next month's Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup qualifiers in Myanmar, it will also give Brunei its first chance at precious FIFA ranking points in three years.
Though Brunei competed at last year's Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Indonesia and the Hassanal Bolkiah Trophy (HBT) in March which they won as hosts after beating Indonesia 2-0, the former was an Under-23 competition and the latter an Under-21 tournament.
Tonight's game at the Hassanal Bolkiah National Stadium in Berakas at 8:15pm, though, is a certified FIFA international friendly with a neutral FIFA referee (Malaysian Mohd Yussof Mat Karim) and a limit of six substitutes.
Brunei are 202nd in the 206-nation FIFA rankings while Indonesia are 168th, and a win will be a much-needed boost for the Sultanate who only had their three-year FIFA suspension lifted last year.
Though the national team pushed for unlimited substitutes during yesterday's manager's meeting, they only have to look to the Philippines to be reminded why limited substitutes and neutral referees are pre-requesites for a match to be being recognised as a FIFA international friendly, thus gaining ranking points.
The Philippines' GMA Network reported that the Philippines' match with Laos on Sept 10 was removed from the FIFA official list of fixtures after the latter used an unsanctioned referee. The Philippines' Sept 5 match against Cambodia where the Cambodians reportedly made seven substitutions also forced FIFA to cancel the game from the official fixtures as the maximum number of substitutions allowed in a game is six.
The last time the Sultanate played in a game of this stature was in May 2009 when they lost all three of their 2010 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge Cup qualifying matches in Sri Lanka, going down to the hosts 5-1, Pakistan 6-0 and Chinese Taipei 5-0.
Fans will have to rewind to October 21, 2008 for Brunei's last win, a 4-1 result against Timor-Leste during that year's Suzuki Cup qualifiers in Cambodia. They started off with a 1-1 draw with the Philippines before beating Timor Leste and losing 3-2 to Laos. Cambodia would qualify at the expense of Brunei after beating them 2-1 in their final match, and the FIFA suspension prevented the country from lacing up in 2010.
The Indonesians head into tonight's tie as favourites having finished second in the last edition of the biennial tournament to Malaysia. They also have been spared the expense of qualifying and are drawn in the Nov 24-Dec 22 tournament proper with Malaysia, Singapore and whichever country places second in the qualifying rounds.
Indonesia's preparations for the AFF Suzuki Cup have been less than ideal though, having lost 2-0 to North Korea in Jakarta on Sept 10 and held to a 0-0 draw against Vietnam in Surabaya five days later.
Largely due to internal politics, their current squad is a rework of the one that ended as runners-up in 2010.
Their coach Nil Maizar, though, is confident his players have the quality to impress tonight.
Indonesia will still be grimacing about the HBT loss but it could have been a different story had Brunei not been strengthened by five over-age players and spurred on by a fantastic home crowd.
Though Brunei's assistant coach admitted he did not know much about the current Indonesian team, he was sure that their opponents' pedigree spoke for itself.
"We only know that they finished second during the last Suzuki Cup," said Rosanan Samak.
"I prefer to focus on my own team. I know we might not have nine DPMM FC players available for selection so that will affect our strategy ... (but) for me and my coaching staff, we believe we can challenge Indonesia." The Brunei Times ..