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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodia coach defiant ahead of Afghanistan visit

Head coach Leonardo Vitorino (centre) holds a press conference with Cambodia captain Khoun Laboravy and Afghanistan manager Otto Pfister (right) yesterday.
Head coach Leonardo Vitorino (centre) holds a press conference with Cambodia captain Khoun Laboravy and Afghanistan manager Otto Pfister (right) yesterday. Sreng Meng Srun

Cambodia coach defiant ahead of Afghanistan visit

Cambodia head coach Leonardo Vitorino has made it clear that he is not in the business of counting wins and losses or focusing on short-term gains but that he has taken up the challenging role to meet strategic goals to build a secure future for Cambodian football.

The Brazilian’s defiant assertion in the wake of a winless three months in charge came at a joint press conference held by him and his Afghanistan counterpart Otto Pfister at the Hotel Phnom Penh yesterday ahead of the Group E clash between the two countries in the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 final round qualifiers at Olympic Stadium this evening.

The much anticipated contest, which is expected to draw another massive crowd, kicks off at 6:30pm.

Vitorino and Pfister are both relatively new in their latest jobs, having assumed control of their teams barely months ago, but they face very different sets of circumstances in building the strength of their teams.

While pressure has been gradually mounting on Vitorino to produce a positive outcome after three defeats to Jordan, India and Indonesia in the past three months, the challenge for Pfister is to manage a team where players are scattered in different parts of the world following political turmoil in Afghanistan that has forced the country to seek neutral venues for their home matches.

“We talk about advantages and strengths, but football is a game that is 50-50,” was the German’s modest answer to a question about Afghanistan’s chances.

Vitorino contended that his team has shown improvement, but that the pace of change would be slow. “I want to win, the players want to win, the crowd wants us to win. But we have to realise the fact that Cambodia has lost those games to teams that are ranked higher and so far has only managed to beat teams that are ranked below them,” he said.

“I have in mind a team for tomorrow that will create a buzz. Many people may not agree with it, but it fits into my own and the federation’s long-term vision. This is precisely what we are planning for – to build a team that can bring laurels to the country when it hosts the 2023 SEA Games.”

‘Push for a brighter future’
The Brazilian rejected outright the claim he had criticised some players for not following his instructions in the 2-0 friendly loss to Indonesia last week. “I never said they did not follow my instructions. In fact, they did, and they always do. I just want them to learn from their mistakes,” he said.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Football Federation of Cambodia denied any hint of putting pressure on the new coach. “We have absolutely no [concerns]. Yes, we expect good results. But, at the same time, we know our strengths and weaknesses. We are positively pushing for a brighter future,” he said.

Afghanistan have made several changes from the team that beat Cambodia twice during last year’s World Cup qualifying second round. As many as eight Afghan players have been training in Germany and other parts of Europe, a fact that was not lost on the Cambodia coach, who saw that as a major plus for the opposition.

“We have Chan Vathanaka in J-League 3, and our league standard is not that high, whereas the Afghan players play in stronger leagues and they have a bunch of good players and are physically superior compared to our players. We have a tough match on our hands,” Vitorino said.

Afghanistan snatched a thrilling 1-0 victory over Cambodia when the two sides met two years ago at the same venue. Hardworking midfielder Mustafa Zazai struck the only goal of a match full of thrust and parry in the 85th minute to the delight of German Bosnian coach Slaven Skeledzic, who later made way for two more coaches before Pfister took over in March of this year.

Though a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, Cambodia can still look back with some pride to that fighting performance in the hope of reining in the Afghans.

The match will be broadcast live on local channel BTV.

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