Hassanal Bolkiah Trophy basis for ASEAN league?

The Hassanal Bolkiah Trophy for South East Asian U-21 footballers is being raised as the foundation for an ASEAN regional professional league. "The Asian Football Confederation and ASEAN Football Federation age-group tournaments help to develop and prepare the youngsters for the international tournament but we still need our own league, just like in Europe," the HBT opening and closing ceremony chairman Mohamed Zamri Hamdani told Zulhilmi Supaat of Bernama newsagency in Bandar Seri Begawan.

He quoted a 1997 speech by Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah which said: "Soccer has the greatest following in Southeast Asia. Having an ASEAN or Southeast Asian soccer league will deepen the awareness of ordinary people of Asean countries. Let all the best teams of our region compete in the league. If Europe can have a European League, Latin America a Latin American League and Africa its African league, why is there not a Southeast Asian League?"

However Mohamed Zamri said that nothing positive had as yet materialised from the sultan's suggestion. Interestingly, Brunei was less than enthusiastic about the very popular ASEAN Football Championship when it was known as the Tiger Cup and sponsored by a famous Singapore brewery.

Brunei took the initiative to introduce the HBT in 2002 when Indonesia won the first edition. Thailand emerged as the winner in 2005. For this year's tournament, eight countries are taking part in two groups. Group A comprises Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam while Group B comprises Myanmar, Philippines, Brunei and Cambodia. The nine-day tournament will be held in three Brunei venues, the Hassanal Bolkiah National Stadium, Hassanal Bolkiah National Sports Complex and Berakas Sports Complex.