Brunei football team set sights on semis

(L-R) Brunei football team captain Azwan Muhd Salleh, Ahmad Hafiz Said and Adi Said prior to their departure for the SEA Games at the Brunei International Airport yesterday.Picture: BT/ Rudolf Portillo

Thursday, November 3, 2011

CONFIDENCE is coursing through the Under-23 national football team which left for Jakarta to compete at the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games yesterday and probably no one's more optimistic than Azwan Muhd Salleh.

"A medal might be hard but I want to make it to the second round (semi-finals) at least," said the captain.

"A good result in our first match against Timor Leste (on Saturday) will surely give us confidence ahead of our other games.

"The team has a good understanding among each other and our teamwork is strong. Compared to the other teams, we didn't have any friendly matches against international sides, so that might be a problem for the first game.

"Of course, I am proud to be selected as captain. This will be my second time leading the team after the 2006 Malaysia Games (Sukma) in Kedah," added the 23-year-old DPMM FC midfielder.

Brunei's only professional club, DPMM FC have three players in the 20-man squad which departed for the Indonesian capital for the biennial tournament striker Adi Said and midfielder Mohd Hendra Azam Mohd Idris are the other two.

Making a return to the SEA Games football event after 10 years, the Sultanate's second Group B match is against Laos next Monday.

They take on Myanmar two days later and 2009 runners-up Vietnam are penned in for next Saturday.

Brunei meet the Philippines in their final group stage match on Nov 15, with the semi-finals set for Nov 19 and the final two days later.

It is arguably the country's biggest test in a decade, with Brunei's last appearance at the regional meet coming at the 2001 Kuala Lumpur SEA Games.

Pride is on the line and that's definitely what was on Ahmad Hafiz Said's mind when asked about what he felt heading into the competition especially after being told that Vietnam Football Federation (VFF) chairman Nguyen Trong Hy had said "Brunei is not a strong team".

"That's only going to motivate us more! I want us to show (people) that Brunei can play," smiled Adi's brother.

"We've had enough training, our teamwork is good, and I'm confident as well," chipped in Adi, who has been rapidly gaining a reputation as one of the most feared strikers in the land while playing for Majra.

Netting the winning goal in their 2-1 win over the Royal Brunei Armed Forces Sports Council (MS ABDB) in July's DST Group Brunei League Cup final, he earned the Man of the Match award for his heroics.

His eye for the goal is no surprise considering his brother Shahrazen who also plays for DPMM FC is just as deadly.

After all, Shahrazen led DPMM FC in scoring during their debut Singapore League season in 2008/2009 with nine goals and finished joint top scorer during the 2006/2007 Malaysian Super League campaign with 21.

Also in a positive mood was Adi's strike partner Mohd Nazirul Nazreen Abdullah, who along with Hamizan Sulaiman, make up the team's trio in attack.

"The three of us have a good understanding and have no problems communicating with each other. I'm sure we can work well together (in Jakarta)," he said.

"We will need some luck in our matches and when we are in Jakarta we will have to stay focused, be committed during training and get enough rest," added the 22-year-old.

Luck has already been on the team's side after they were handed an easier group during the draw held on Oct 19.

Group A pits titleholders Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore and Cambodia against each other in what will be an extremely tough pool to say the least. The two best teams from each group advance to the semi-finals.

Vietnam takes on the Philippines in today's tournament opener at 5pm (Brunei time) while Laos face Myanmar at 8pm.

Both games will be held at 88,083 capacity Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta.

Only four of the Brunei team are first-timers to an international competition the rest enjoying playing time at the 2007 Hassanal Bolkiah Trophy (a competition between national Under-21 teams from the Asean region), the 2008 Malaysia Games (Sukma) and Asean Schools Football Tournament.

Though the side which was formed in July was only able to call their 2-2 draw against DPMM as their sternest test ahead of the Games, the other countries have enjoyed a better build up to the event.

The Filipinos just returned from a week-long stay in Japan while Myanmar faced Malaysia, Uzbekistan and Vietnam at last month's Vietnam Football Federation (VFF) Cup in Vietnam, where they lost 2-1, 2-1 and 5-0 respectively.

Also in the VFF Cup, Malaysia held Vietnam to a 1-1 draw and lost 3-1 to Uzbekistan.

Semi-finalists at the SEA Games which they hosted in 2009, Laos lost 4-1 to Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur last week.

Indonesia held their senior counterparts 1-1 in a recent game and breezed past the Timor Leste Under-23 squad 5-0.

Brunei's tie against Timor Leste might seem the easiest but the players aren't taking anything for granted.

"Every team has its strengths we can't look down on any of them," insisted defender Md Enddy Zulyadi Awg Sapar.

With 13 wins to their name, Thailand are the most successful team in the competition. Malaysia and Myanmar have five titles to their name a statistic that stretches back to 1959 when the event was known as the Southeast Asian Peninsular Games.

Malaysia won gold at the last edition when they defeated Vietnam 1-0 in the final when Vietnam's Mai Xuan Hop put the ball into his own net to hand the Asean champions their first SEA Games title in 20 years.

Including the footballers, Brunei is set to send 62 athletes to the Nov 11-22 Games where they will compete in 10 other sports; 10-pin bowling, cue sports, fencing, karatedo, kempo, pencak silat, petanque, sepak takraw, taekwondo and wushu.

Co-hosted by Palembang and Jakarta, the Games officially kick off at the Jakabaring Stadium in Palembang, where according to Bernama, 6,000 athletes from 11 countries will be present at the ceremony.The Brunei Times