The national Under-18 football team departed Brunei for the 41st Asian Schools Football Championships in Thailand yesterday with their coach reaffirming the need to shore up on defense against two of the region's best teams.
The national team have been drawn into Group B alongside China, South Korea, Macau and Vietnam, with the first two teams sure to prove a tough test for Brunei.
Both South Korea and China forced their way through to the semi-finals of the previous edition in Iran, only to be stopped by Thailand and Iran respectively.
South Korea would do on to beat China for third, and when speaking to The Brunei Times yesterday, national coach Tajul Ariffin Sumpong once again stressed that the side will have to exercise caution when facing the two Asian powerhouses.
"We will try to play defensive with one striker up front when we play against South Korea and China," said Tajul, echoing comments he made in a previous interview with The Brunei Times last week.
"I will have to see how they play first to determine my strategy in our other two matches," he added.
Brunei face China in their first match on Friday at the Mae Fah Luang University.
The country will then go up against Macau on Saturday, South Korea on Sunday and Vietnam on Monday.
Despite the battles ahead, Tajul insisted that the target is to make the next round.
"Hopefully we can make it to the second round because that will be good for the players," he said.
"I hope they will also show their best performance during the tournament," added the coach.
Over in Group A are Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
The team, which was formed in January, has played friendlies with club sides such as DPMM FC and the Royal Brunei Police Force in a bid to prepare for the tournament.
Last year's outing to Tehran saw the team lose all four of their games in the tournament played at Shahid Bahoner Camp, which is almost 3000m above sea level.
Brunei lost 4-0 to Malaysia during their first match and fell to Thailand by the same scoreline the next day.
Hong Kong beat them 2-0 and China went past them 4-0.
The team included two players who participated in the previous edition of the tournament last year in Iran, where despite the losses, Tajul said was important in terms of lesons learnt.
"The experience there taught us that we needed to improve on our finishing and passing. And there has been improvement since then," said Tajul last week.
Iran, who scored 53 goals and didn't let in a single one, were crowned champions after a 2-0 triumph over Thailand.
Iran also beat Indonesia 4-0, Sri Lanka 17-0, South Korea 1-0, Pakistan 28-0 and China 1-0 - though the fact that the defending champions won't be in Bangkok has created an easier path to the next round for the other teams.
The acting director of the Co-curriculum Department, Pg Suhaimi Pg Hj Bakar, presented the national flag to the team.