With one space at the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup still up for grabs, Timor-Leste and Brunei DS go head-to-head in the first leg of the qualification round at Kuala Lumpur Football Stadium on Saturday.

The two sides are aiming to book what would be only their second appearance at the ASEAN Championship, after Brunei participated in the inaugural edition in 1996 and the Timorese took part in the 2004 tournament.

Timor-Leste had been due to host the first leg at National Stadium in the capital, Dili, although officials raised concerns over the floodlighting and switched the venue to neutral ground in Malaysia.

With the competition having been expanded to 10 teams for the first time since 2004, both sides have the opportunity to create history as they aim to establish themselves among the elite of ASEAN football.

“The most important element for us, especially in the first match, is to ensure that we contain Brunei and ensure they don’t score,” said Timor-Leste defender Jorge Victor, who recently captained his side at the Asian Games in Indonesia.

“If we can do that then I’m confident we have the goals we need to win.”

Timor-Leste’s first and only appearance in the competition resulted in successive defeats to Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Myanmar, although it was only two stoppage-time Filipino goals that prevented them gaining all three points.

The Timorese have taken part in all six qualifying tournaments since, coming closest to advancing in 2012 – then in a group format – when they and Brunei finished just a point behind Laos, who secured the second qualification berth.

Brunei’s appearance at the maiden AFF Championship in Singapore, meanwhile, remains their high point in the competition, having failed to progress to the group stage since.

The Sultanate did, however, manage to claim one victory, when Irwan Mohammad scored the only goal of the game in a 1-0 win over the Philippines.

Defeats to Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia meant they did not advance to the knockout rounds, but the Bruneians did finish above the Philippines.

Like Saturday’s opponents, Brunei came closest to securing a second appearance in 2012 when they finished just a point behind Laos. But they will now aim to end 22 years of hurt and return to the region’s biggest stage.

“The Timor-Leste national side are a very young team and they have dangerous attackers that are very sharp and clever so the main challenge for us will be to hold our focus,” said Brunei coach Kwon Oh-son.

“We must ensure that we give 100 percent concentration and focus throughout the 180 minutes.”

Timor-Leste and Brunei twice faced off in 2016, with the Bruneians winning 2-1 in the Suzuki Cup qualification group and then 4-0 in the group stage of the AFC Solidarity Cup. 

The second leg of the qualifier will take place at Hassanal Bolkiah National Stadium in the Brunei capital Bandar Seri Begawan on September 8. The winners are set to join defending champions Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines and Singapore in Group B of the competition proper.