MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATE 2) Brunei has backed out of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Challenge Cup qualifiers, the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) confirmed on Thursday.
Brunei was originally part of Group E, along with The Philippines, Cambodia and Turkmenistan. The Challenge Cup qualifiers was scheduled to kick off on Friday, March 22 at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila.
PFF general secretary Atty. Ed Gastanes on Thursday confirmed a report that Brunei had withdrawn from the tournament.
"We were surprised, just like the others, to receive the confirmation at noontime today that Brunei has formally written the AFC yesterday, stating they cannot participate in the qualifiers that we are hosting, due to quote-unquote unavoidable circumstances," Gastanes said in an interview on ANC.
"I think in the history of the competition, it is the first time (that this happened)," he added. "It is unfortunate that it occurred in a group, where the Philippines will for the first time, host the qualifiers."
When asked about possible sanctions on Brunei, Gastanes said he could only speculate, but there were four possibilities.
"Number one, a fine. Number two, suspension from participating in the next edition of the competition. Number three, compensation to the AFC. And number four, when the gravity of the situation calls for it, disciplinary action," he said.
The Brunei Times reported yesterday that their football team was withdrawing from the qualifiers. The Philippine Azkals were supposed to play Brunei on March 22 in their first match of the competition.
The PFF has yet to issue guidelines regarding the refund of tickets for the Philippines-Brunei match.
All other matches will follow the original schedule unless the AFC chooses to make changes. Thus, the Azkals will play Cambodia on March 24 at 7:30 p.m., and Turkmenistan on March 26 also at 7:30 p.m.
The top teams, along with the best second place teams, in all groups will move on to the Challenge Cup finals in Maldives next year.
The Azkals finished third in last year's competition, their best finish in the tournament to date.