Behold the comeback kids

Fadhil Yunus

Brunei football in recent seasons has witnessed the resurgence of Kota Ranger FC, one of the most celebrated clubs in the country, after their maiden triumph in the DST FA Cup last year.

As one of the footballing giants during the early days of Brunei football, Kota Ranger is steeped in tradition and history. The club has also asserted their dominance on the local scene with trophies at the height of their powers and made a name for themselves in regional football.

This year, they have made reinforcements both in terms of the playing squad and members of the coaching staff as they look to mount a challenge on all fronts, with the league title at the forefront of their minds.

With reigning holders MS ABDB gunning for a fifth consecutive title this season, Kota Ranger could be one of the title contenders alongside Kasuka FC and Indera SC, all of whom have strengthened their squads in bid for glory.

Founded in 1978, Kota Ranger is one of the longest serving clubs in the history of Brunei football, as well as a founding team in the league in the 80s and 90s. After the highs of winning two league titles in 1987 and 1993, the club suffered relegation in the 2004 season.

Kota Ranger as newly-crowned 2018 Brunei FA Cup champion. PHOTO: FADHIL YUNUS

Nevertheless, the club bounced back in style after winning promotion in 2015, having finished unbeaten in the Brunei Premier League, which was at the time the country’s second tier of league football.

After an indifferent start on their return to the top flight a season later, Kota Ranger finished as runners-up in the 2017-2018 season behind eventual winners MS ABDB in the top tier Brunei Super League.

The club underwent a manage-ment reshuffle in the 2017-2018 season, with a renewed interest in carrying on the standards set by their predecessors.

Kota Ranger was only beaten once during that campaign and pushed MS ABDB to the wire as the league title was only decided in the last two weeks of the season.

The club enjoyed a run of good form when they went on an eight-game winning run, which turned out to be the longest winning run of the season.

Buoyed by their progress, they began their knockout football campaign with a 2-1 victory over DPMM FC before eliminating fierce rivals Kasuka FC 1-0 after extra time in the quarterfinals.

They edged BSRC FT 2-1 in the semi-finals to earn a spot in the final against MS PDB, who made another impressive journey in the competition having returned to a second successive final.

Kota Ranger star Muhd Asyraffahmi bin Norsamri netted the dramatic winner to help his side to their maiden FA Cup triumph.

By winning the FA Cup, the club became the first side other than Indera SC and MS ABDB to scoop a major domestic trophy since QAF FC triumphed in the old Brunei league back in the 2009/2010 season.

The club announced their intent of the league title after securing commitment from Brunei international Adi Said as well as a number of foreign imports.

Adi made history when he became the first Bruneian to play for an overseas team when he joined UiTM FC in the Malaysia Premier League, the country’s second tier of football.

Whilst at DPMM FC where he enjoyed two league titles, he built a reputation as one of the Singapore Premier League’s finest players after ending the 2018 season with the league’s most assists, alongside former Albirex Niigata (S) player Riku Moriyasu.

The move seemed to work wonders as Adi contributed with a hat-trick in his debut during Kota Ranger’s victory in the Charity Cup against MS ABDB.

The club also made reinforcements in the coaching setup after roping in former Indera SC tactician Darus bin Tanjung as head coach while former national goalkeeper Ibrahim bin Abu Bakar as goalkeeper coach.