Photos by: Sreng Meng Srun
A sensational second half blitz saw Cambodia bounce back from a first half one-goal deficit to record a commanding 4-2 victory over Laos in the first leg of their FIFA World Cup Asian Group first round qualifier at Olympic Stadium yesterday.
A stunning free kick ten minutes into the game by Laos midfielder Phomsouvanh Monolom triggered an eerie silence in the stands but a crowd of well over 10,000 erupted in wild celebrations as the Cambodian strike force of Khuon Laboravy, Kuoch Sokumpheak and substitute Sam El Nasa came out of the trenches and kept hitting the target.
In a complete shake up of the first half script, the home side adopted a refreshingly bold approach as Laboravy gained free access into the shot box to beat Laos goalkeeper Chintana Souksavath six minutes after the break. The equaliser clearly shifted the momentum in favour of Cambodia, and moments later Sam El Nasa streamed through the back line and clipped the ball round Chintana to fire his side into the lead
The visitors responded with another top notch set piece conversion by Phomsouvanh to level the scores, but within minutes Kouch Sokumpheak capped off a fleet-footed dash into the box with a deft finish to haul the home side to the front again.
With the seconds ticking away in the fixture, Sokumpheak conveyed a neat cutback to the fast advancing Sam El Nasa, who gleefully deflected the ball in for his well-deserved brace.
A last ditch header by hard working midfielder Vongchiengkham Soukaphone sailed over the bar confirming Cambodia’s two-goal advantage ahead of this Sunday’s return leg in Vientiane.
Cambodia head coach Lee Tae Hoon cautioned at the post match press conference that the contest was far from over, with plenty of work needed to be done before the second leg. “Yes, I am happy with the scoreline, but there are still lot of problems and defence is one of them,” he said.
“For example we conceded those two crucial free kicks which Laos turned into goals. With a little tact by our defenders we could have avoided them. We tend to give away possession quite easily and I want to work on this aspect.”
South Korean born Lee revealed his half time pep talk had resonated well within his team. “At the break I told the players don’t look back at what happened. Win or lose go for it. Be more positive and try to avoid long passes,” he said.
“It’s all about confidence and you need to regain that as quickly as you can.”
The coach added he was pleased to see his tactics alter the balance on the pitch.
“I had to take out Tum Saray early because I saw him come under a lot of pressure and he was seemingly overawed by the occasion. So I replaced him with Sam El Nasa, who is a smart player and an experienced one.”
Casting a glance towards Sunday’s second leg, the coach noted that “playing away is always tough for any side,” adding: “we need to do our best.”
Laos head coach Hans-Peter Schaller, meanwhile, admitted his side made it too easy for Cambodia to score. “You cannot make so many individual mistakes and still hope for a better result than this,” he said.
“We play at the same level and the result was no surprise to me. Even I felt it was not too bad if it were to be 3-2, but 4-2 is giving away a lot.
The 48-year-old Austrian blamed his “very young and inexperienced team” for the loss. “In fact, we missed out on as many as six key players including a couple of good defenders and a good striker. Its all about confidence and some of them are playing here for the first time.
“When you begin to lose confidence you begin to make a lot of errors and that is what happened with some of my players today,” he added.
“If we cannot beat Cambodia at home, we are not good enough. It is tough, but we will give our best in the second leg.”
The winner over the two legs will advance to the second round where they will face China in a further set of matches on July 23 and 28.
In the four other Asian group first legs yesterday that had completed by time of print, Nepal recorded a 2-1 home win over Timor-Leste, Mongolia edged Myanmar 1-0 in Ulan Bator, Sri Lanka and the Philippines ended deadlocked at 1-1 in Colombo, and Palestine grabbed two vital away goals in their 2-0 defeat of Afghanistan.