The Global Game

Young Brunei Darussalam building on its old football tradition

Brunei Darussalam, Bandar Seri Begawan, schoolboys in local uniform playing soccer with bottle and ball on roadside
© imago images
  • Brunei Darussalam enjoy a long footballing tradition
  • They have made consistent progress since joining FIFA in 1972
  • NFABD have further plans for enhanced youth development

Brunei Darussalam are, indeed, a young country earning independence only in 1984. However, they are a nation with a long history with the then Sultanate of Brunei being one of the most powerful in South-east Asia between the 15th and 17th centuries.

Similarly when it comes to football, the National Football Association of Brunei Darussalam (NFABD) became affiliated to FIFA only in 1972, but the beautiful game had taken root long before.

Located on the north coast of Borneo – the island is also home to territory belonging to Malaysia and Indonesia – Brunei’s landmass is less than 6,000 square kilometres. Despite its tiny population of less than half a million, the country's footballing passion is as rich as their abundant national resources in gas and oil with football being the undisputed No1 sport. Today, football is played throughout the country's four districts at both grassroots and professional level.

Since its founding in 1956 as the Brunei State Football Amateur Association, the NFABD have continually worked on development of their game. Football infrastructure and facilities have largely been improved since then and with support by FIFA, NFABD had its association headquarters built in Bandar Seri Begawan, the country's capital in 2005. The installation of a natural-grass pitch and an artificial turf pitch followed in 2013 at the new headquarters.

The country entered a new era of professional football heading into the new millennium. A top-flight competition, the Brunei Premier League, was organised in 2002 before making way for the new Brunei Super League in 2012.

Brunei Darussalam national team in a training session
© Others

International breakthrough

Despite football’s unchallenged status, Brunei Darussalam have enjoyed limited interaction with the FIFA World Cup™ until recent years. Although their first two attempts of qualifying for Mexico 1986 and Korea/Japan 2002 ended in zero points gained, they made the breakthrough on the road to Russia 2018 by clinching their maiden qualifying victory in their third campaign.

It took place in Asia's first qualifying round when Brunei, playing away in Chinese Taipei, pulled off an unexpected 1-0 victory with Adi Said grabbing the history-making match-winner. However, a 2-0 loss at home in the return leg saw them narrowly miss out on a place in the next phase.

It was history repeating itself in qualifying for Qatar 2022 in June last year. Brunei, despite losing the first leg 2-0 in Mongolia, bounced back to register a 2-1 victory at home courtesy of Razimie Ramlli's brace, sending the 17,000-strong home supporters at the Hassanal Bolkiah National Stadium into raptures despite their narrow exit.

In order to make consistent progress, NFABD are all too aware that enhanced youth development is the key. "We have a few plans in mind to increase the number of children playing football," NFABD Technical Director Narayanan Nair Sivaji told FIFA.com.

"We will establish talent centres in the districts so that we create more opportunities for players to come under our radar. We will extend the youth leagues and provide help to clubs in building up their youth academies. And we will especially help our youth coaches improve their levels."

Royal passion

Although Brunei clubs have made little impression on either Asian stage or global front, they do boast an established side in DPMM FC. The local powerhouses, with its name Duli Pengiran Muda Mahkota Football Club (His Royal Highness the Crown Prince of Brunei Football Club), is owned by none other than the Crown Prince Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah, who once played as a goalkeeper of the team.

After winning the Brunei Premier League in 2002 and 2004, DPMM FC set their sights on greater heights, and they duly achieved incredible success. Notably, they competed in Malaysia Super League in 2006/07 season, finishing third. They then featured in the Singapore Premier League in 2009, winning the Singapore League Cup in their maiden campaign, before two league title wins in 2015 and 2019, and two more cup triumphs.

Another notable royal family member making an impact in football is 22-year-old Faiq Jefri Bolkiah. Having cut his teeth with youth academies of Southampton, Arsenal and Chelsea, he has spent the past four years with Leicester City, before recently making a high-profile move to Portuguese Primeira Liga side Maritimo. All the more impressive is that he made his international debut as a teenager in the 2016 AFF Championship qualifiers, where he was made national team captain, scoring in a 4-3 loss to Laos.

Brunei Darussalam youth team celebrate after scoring a goal
© Others

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