Timor Leste secured their place in the AFF Suzuki Cup final round group competition for the first time in 14-years after holding off a determined Brunei side in the second leg qualifying match at the Hassanal Bolkiah Stadium tonight.

Timor Leste, with a two-goal lead in the bag from the first-leg, lost 1-0 today but advance with a 3-2 aggregate.

Timor Leste, whose last appearance in the final group stage was in 2004, were under pressure for the better part of the game and eventually cracked in the 75th minute when Mohamad Najib Tarif broke through. Brunei intensified their attacks in search of the second goal, which would have sealed their place in the final rounds, but they never found the mark again.

Despite going down, Timor Leste, 3-1 winners in the first leg last week, moved on the group stage where they will have defending champions Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines for company in Group B. Group A meanwhile comprises Vietnam, Malaysia, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos.

Brunei, understandably, were the early aggressors. They swarmed forward in their hunt for goals and troubled their rivals. A freekick in the 17thminute from Muhammad Azwan Ali Rahman, his team’s sole scorer in the first leg, was well caught. Some ten minutes later, Mohammad Shah Razen Said relayed to skipper Faiq Jefri Bolkiah whose crisp shot was again saved.

Aderito Raul Fernandes pulled off what was probably his best save of the first half a few minutes later when he turned away a close-range strike. Timor Leste had two late strikes from striker Joao Pedro Da Silva Freitas and Henrique Wilson Da Cruz Martins but both shots were stopped by keeper Haimie Anak Nyaring.

Just five minutes into the half, and Timor almost snatched the lead but Paolo Costa Freitas’ cracker screamed inches over the bar. In the 67th minute, it was Muhammad Shah’s turn to despair when his freekick slipped over the bar. 

Then, in the 75th minute, Mohamad Najib blasted his side ahead to give hope to the fans that their team would stage a remarkable comeback. Brunei displayed excellent spirit and pressed on. They had a few close calls but failed to score.

“They had some new players and were strong. We had a good experience today. We knew it would be tough so I told the boys to play their normal game,” said Timor Leste coach, Norio Tsukitate. Timor Leste skipper, Jorge Sabas Victor, who was voted the Man-of-the-Match, admitted that it had been tough for them. “Brunei were very strong in the second leg and that made it really tough for us to contain them. Although we lost, I’m glad we went through.”

Brunei coach Kwon Oh Son apologised to the fans for not advancing. “Although we won, we did not make it through. We dominated throughout, we attacked and scored but could not advance. Our players did well, but there was a clear lack of finishing, we had chances to score but the finishing cost us the game.”

Faiq, the Brunei captain, said after the match: “We had a different game plan today, because we knew we needed the goals, we played a lot higher than normal. I think for us to get a win here was a good result but obviously it was not enough.”

The final round group competition will kick-off on 8 Nov. 

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