National football coach Kwon Oh-son gestures while talking to The Brunei Times yesterday. BT/ Yee Chun Leong
It's do-or-die for Brunei at the SEA Games tonight.
Winless and goalless in their opening two Group A games, the national Under-23 team will be looking for a change in fortunes when they play table-toppers Singapore - who will be aiming for all three points in a bid to cement their place in the semi-finals.
"It will be a very exciting game," promised national coach Kwon Oh-son yesterday.
"Singapore need to win to go into the semi-finals and we need to win to stay alive.
"Our players are ready and they are united.
"Though they have had many opportunities I (still) believe in our players," said the South Korean when asked about his team's toothless attack.
While they had their chances in a gutsy 2-0 loss against defending champions Malaysia on Tuesday, Brunei's failure to grab them extends their goalless streak to five games in a row - which includes a trio of friendlies against Thai Premier League club Chiangrai United FC and the Thai SEA Games team just prior to leaving for Myanmar.
It will be equally as tough against a Singapore team marshaled in defence by Safuwan Baharudin and Afiq Yunos.
Despite letting in a late equaliser during their 1-1 draw against 10-men Laos on Sunday, Singapore were a tough nut to crack two days later - Vietnam finding that out the hard way in a 1-0 loss.
That Vietnam beat Brunei 7-0 in the Group A opener on Sunday has taken on less significance after their loss to Singapore, but for Kwon's men, a lot will hinge on whether Azwan Ali Rahman can recover from a hip injury.
The DPMM FC attacking midfielder, who was carrying a hip-injury heading into the game against Vietnam, has put up a strong front and has been in the starting-11 in both of Brunei's games at the Zeyar Thiri Football Stadium.
Striker Mohammad Shafie Hj Mohd Efenddy is also out with a right ankle injury that has troubled him since the Thailand trip, but Kwon thinks there is no one in the team who can create more chances than Azwan - who he called a "midfield general and a real leader".
"He is dedicated and has sacrificed a lot," praised Kwon.
"Azwan has great fighting spirit and a tough mentality and I'm very thankful for that... There are not many players like him," stressed the coach.
Kwon picked out Sahil Suhaimi - who has scored both of Singapore's goals here in Myanmar - and Shafiq Ghani as ones to watch out for today, saying the strikers make "important contributions".
It will be up to Sahil to shine tonight though - Shafiq is out suspended.
Though the win against Vietnam helped put aside memories of their draw against Laos, where they let in a late equaliser after playing against a side who were a man down from the second minute, Singapore's coach isn't getting ahead of himself.
"The result (against Vietnam) was a morale booster for the boys. (But) We will take it one game at a time," Aide Iskandar was quoted as saying on Football Association Singapore's website.
"Over here, our aim is to win every single match.
"We will not take Brunei lightly. Now we are top of the group with two games to go, but it doesn't guarantee us a place in the semi-finals.
"We need to win the next two matches in order for us to stay safe," he insisted, knowing that Malaysia and Vietnam are only one point away - though the former have a game in hand.
Singapore's captain Hariss Harun felt the same way, saying "We cannot underestimate Brunei... We have to be on our toes for all the games; every game is going to be a challenge for us."