Sunday, March 24, 2013THE Philippines Football Federation (PFF) have said it "respects" Brunei's decision to pull out of the ongoing Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge Cup Group E qualifiers in Manila.
Brunei surprised the Asian football community when it withdrew from the four-team; qualifiers in the Philippine capital on Tuesday, citing "unavoidable circumstances" for the decision.
Though the choice has largely been met with rebuke by Filipino media, and the AFC has stated it is looking at possible suspensions and fines, PFF's general secretary insists there are no hard feelings about the 11th hour decision.
"It is unfortunate that our football friends from Brunei are no longer participating in the tournament," said Atty Edwin Gastanes in an e-mail to The Brunei Times on Friday.
"We will surely miss Brunei and we hope to be able to play with them someday.
"It would've been exciting to have all the teams in Group E complete in all the matches.
"PFF has left no stones unturned to make their stay in the Philippines pleasant and memorable.
"The Philippines Azkals and Filipino fans were really looking forward to playing against them on the first match day. The PFF in the end respects the National Football Association of Brunei Darussalam's decision to withdraw from the competition," he added.
Brunei only informed the Philippines of their withdrawal a day before they were set to face the hosts in Friday's tournament-opener, a move which came as something of a shock to Gastanes.
"They even asked for early arrival and the Philippines as hosts obliged and made arrangements," Gastanes was quoted as saying on GMA News Online.
Brunei have found the Philippines to be equal punching partners in the past, with the two countries playing out a 1-1 draw during the 2008 Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup qualifiers in Cambodia and hosts Philippines taking a 1-0 win at the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers .
Two-time Challenge Cup finalists Turkmenistan proved they are the team to beat in this week's Group E qualifiers at the Rizal Memorial Stadium after blasting past Cambodia 7-0 in Friday's opener.
The hosts take on Cambodia today, with the last game pitting Turkmenistan against the Philippines in a winner-takes-all scenario on Tuesday.
Brunei were to play the Philippines on Friday, Turkmenistan today and Cambodia on Tuesday with AFC awarding 3-0 wins to all of Brunei's opponents.
The 20-team qualifiers are divided into four groups of five, with the group winners and two best runners-up advancing to next year's tournament proper in the Maldives.
The Brunei Times