Talented young Wasps’ finest hour

Fadhil Yunus

The Brunei Darussalam national under-22 football team enjoyed their finest hour on the regional stage after they emerged champions of the 2012 Hassanal Bolkiah Trophy (HBT) following a 2-0 victory over Indonesia in the final at the Hassanal Bolkiah National Stadium in Berakas.

In a tournament boasting young hot prospects from across Southeast Asia, Brunei, backed by a fervent home crowd, rose to the occasion with their own conveyor belt of future stars.

The competition witnessed the emergence of fresh-faced Azwan Ali Rahman, Adi Said, Hendra Azam and team captain Najib Tarif with their on-pitch success laying out the foundations of representing the senior international team.

The quartet’s contributions also earned them lucrative moves to Brunei’s top club DPMM FC in the same year and have since enhanced their reputation among the Singapore League’s finest talents.

Nevertheless, the four were accompanied by multi-talented teammates with the likes of teenage sensations Aminuddin Zakwan Tahir, Nurikhwan Othman, Reduan Petara, Shafie Effendy, Abdul Mu’iz Sisa and Hazwan Hamzah forming the core of the squad.

Brunei’s HBT-winning members pose for a group photo. PHOTO: FADHIL YUNUS

All of them would eventually go on to play in DPMM FC colours and figure in the club’s successful spell in the last few seasons, including two Singapore League titles and two League Cups.

Having started the two-week long campaign as unknowns, the Brunei team became heroes in the eyes of the nation’s football-mad supporters as the whistle was blown to mark the end of the cup final as they captured the maiden title.

Brunei entered the tournament, hosted for the fourth time, having never reached the knock-out phase, although they missed out on goal difference in the previous edition.

With two-time winners Thailand withdrawing from the competition, a new champion would be crowned and Indonesia were tipped to be favourites of taking the crown.

Grouped alongside Vietnam, Timor Leste, Malaysia and Cambodia, the hosts managed by Kwon Oh-Son, had fierce opposition to contend with to get out of the group. Brunei began their group campaign against Cambodia, who had a secret weapon in the form of Chan Vathanaka.

With the scores locked at 2-2, Najib netted the winner in injury time to hand the young Wasps precious three points in their group opener.

A 2-1 defeat against Vietnam followed with Adi Said scoring his second goal in the tournament. Brunei emerged 3-0 winners against Malaysia for their first clean sheet of the tournament as Adi made it three matches in a row on the scoresheet.

A 1-0 win over Timor Leste courtesy of a solitary goal from Aminuddin ensured Brunei’s progress to the last four and with it their deepest run in their history of the tournament.

Brunei would meet two-time finalists Myanmar who were chasing a third successive final appearance. The Asian Lions led at the break through Yan Aung Win, setting up an anxious second half for the tournament hosts.

The young Wasps drew level through Nurikhwan Othman before Azwan put his side in front in the hour mark leading to supporters erupting with joy. The stadium got even wilder as Adi’s goal set up a two-goal cushion before Kyaw Zayar Win scored a late consolation, which in the end did not harm Brunei’s chances of progress.

Reaching the final inspired the football community with fans all over the country understandably in high spirits in the build-up. Standing in the way of the title was an Andik Vermansyah-inspired Indonesia, who defeated Vietnam in the other semi-final.

The Hassanal Bolkiah National Stadium saw a record crowd attendance with Indonesian supporters turning out in huge numbers.

With both sides drawing blanks at the break, Aminuddin opened the scoring before Adi doubled the lead with a goal of the highest quality, sending the crowd into ecstasy. A sea of supporters dressed in yellow roared in delight as soon as Adi’s strike sent the net bulging past Indonesia’s goalkeeper Aji Saka.

As the clock wound down and Brunei in dreamland, fans grew excited in witnessing a historic moment for Brunei football with the national team lifting the coveted trophy. The national team gathered at the platform and celebrated their title triumph amid confetti bursting into the air.

The HBT success helped forge an illustrious career for the winning members, notably Azwan who marched on from the heights of his international form to be a lynchpin for DPMM FC.

Having started the tournament with a dream, securing the title has catapulted Adi Said into iconic status and has ever since become synonymous with Brunei football. In addition, for many of the squad’s winning members, the HBT triumph set them up for bright futures in their club careers.