Brunei’s long wait for international club football came to an end after Indera SC made their much-anticipated debut in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup first leg play-off round against Yangon United at the Hassanal Bolkiah National Stadium last Wednesday.
The country has not witnessed a domestic club being represented competitively in the continental scene in 18 years since DPMM FC featured in the qualifying round of the AFC Champions League against Singapore’s Geylang United in the 2002/03 season.
During that time, the Gegar Gegar men represented Brunei as the then-called Brunei Premier League or the B League champions.
Indera, who despite managing a fourth-place finish last season, earned their berth in Asia’s second tier competition after obtaining an AFC Club Licence, one of the conditions that is crucial to be eligible for participation in any of the AFC-sanctioned competitions. The draw of the AFC Cup, Asia’s equivalent of the Europa League, was announced in December last year and news filtered across the country that Indera had been handed a tie against Yangon United, five-time winners of the Myanmar National League.
In preparing for arguably the club’s biggest match in their history, Indera strengthened their squad by making key acquisitions.
The club, that emerged as a force in the early 2010, roped in veteran Rodrigo Tosi – once of DPMM FC- as well as Prince Yamoah Boafo, Marcelo Carvalho and Tekson Tubeng.
Indera, the first team to defend the Super League title in Brunei, made final touches to their preparations ahead of the AFC Cup with club friendlies against newly promoted Malaysia Super League outfit Sabah FC and Tankur FC at the Likas Stadium in Kota Kinabalu.
While the new Super League season will be commencing at the end of next month, Yangon United have already started their season competitively in their domestic league.
The Myanmar outfit, who qualified as winners of the General Aung San Shield, won their opening two fixtures in the league as they seek to wrestle the title from current holders Shan United.
As the AFC Cup fixtures rolled out across Asia including Brunei, Maung Maung Lwin-led Yangon United won comfortably with a 6-1 scoreline.
Indera still maintain interest in the competition at least for the next 90 minutes when the contest between the two sides resumes for the second leg at the Thuwunna Stadium in Yangon next week.
The first leg of the AFC Cup has indeed provided Indera a valuable learning experience, but this could also be extended to the rest of the country. “There are so many things that we as a country can take away from this AFC Cup. It is definitely a different level of football and we can strive to play at a higher intensity in the national league,” said Indera SC head coach Ameer Aziz-Hakim bin Haji Abdul Lani.
He added, “Taking from (last Wednesday’s) match, of course there are a number of areas that we need to look into to strive for a better performance overall.”
Similar to the Brunei national team’s adventure in the World Cup qualifying match, it is a pity that defeat over two legs will mark the end of their stay in the competition.
By exiting in the playoff round, the team will not be able to play round robin matches against other continental teams which will ultimately help them gain much-needed exposure. Exposure of club football in the international arena will translate to improved local players who possess the capabilities to perform at the highest level.
The Indera SC head coach sees the benefits for the players if the team meet clubs from other countries.
“Hopefully we can have more of this kind of games so we can expose our locals to play at a higher pace and a higher quality. The higher level you go, the quicker the play is as evident as today (last Wednesday).”
It is clear that the standard and pace of football in Brunei lags behind continental level but there are other measures that can be undertaken to ensure that teams can stay as competitive. “One area that we can definitely consider is improving our coach education from a fitness point of view.
“We need to train at a higher intensity regularly,” said the head coach.
“We should consider setting up a mini tour or a friendly tour to expose ourselves more and more outside of Brunei. For example, we’ve had a couple of international games with recently promoted Sabah FA.
“That was definitely a wonderful experience that we’ve had in Kota Kinabalu and we’ve played the recent champions of KK League Tankur FC.
“With all of these matches, if we can somehow have them on a regular basis and consistently over a number of years, I believe we can without a doubt improve the players and indirectly or directly funnel these players into the national team and age groups level.”