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Cambodia face Young Tigers test

Cambodia’s head coach Prak Sovannara is anxiously eager to see how his national side performs against the visiting Young Tigers, the Malaysian U23 squad, in a football friendly at Olympic Stadium today.

The tune-up game against one of the strongest teams in the region offers Sovannara the best possible chance to firm up his assessment of the national team, which is bound for the Philippines in about two weeks time for Group E of the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers.

The back-to-back losses in friendlies to Ulsan University from South Korea early in January has left the coach with some puzzling questions to address about composition and co-ordination.

He could well find the answers for some those concerns to help him chop and change and draw up a final list of 20 or so who will make it to Manila from the 30 probables now under his watch. But before the teams line up for the 4pm start today, Sovannara made a tough decision on pruning the probables list down to 25.

If there is a hint at all in his late call-up for strikers Kouch Sokumpheak and Khoun Laboravy and defenders Khek Khemrin and Tieng Tiny to join the 21 remaining in the squad from those named for the ties against Ulsan, it is that the head coach is seeking a fusion of experience and emerging talent.

Kouch Sokumpheak came off the bench for Crown in their 1-1 draw against Naga over the weekend to show that he is fit and keen after months of break through injury. His vast international experience could be invaluable.

Likewise, Preah Khan Reach’s Khoun Laboravy is also coming off a lengthy period on the sidelines and will look to once again inspire his compatriots up front.

Khek Khemrin from the Ministry of National Defence team and Naga’s Tieng Tiny are both tough cookies.

Goalkeeper Um Vichet, defender Khiev Vibol, midfielders Chhun Sothearath and Phuong Soksana, and forwards Keo Sokngorn and Sim Vutha are the ones omitted from Sovannara’s shortlist this time out.    

“A win will give us a very good feeling, but the Young Tigers are very strong and I will be pleased if we hold our own and do well,” Sovannara told the Post as his pre-game thought, reflecting the importance he is placing on this game, and not much on the result from his own and the team’s perspective.

Since taking over the national reins for his second stint from Hok Sochetra, who lasted just a few months, Sovannara has been putting the probables through their paces three days a week – Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays – at the National Football Centre on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

While his club and national experience combined gives him a unique advantage, Sovannara insists all options are open when it comes to team selections and formations.

He firmly believes that as much as he prefers to make those choices, the players will have to pick themselves by the weight of their performances.

The Young Tigers went through a successful Australian Tour early this year, losing only one game, their last on the trip, to the Brisbane Olympic side. Coach Ong Kim Swee’s squad will be aiming to make it three golds in a row at the SEA Games in Myanmar this year, having won the 2009 tournament in Laos and the 2011 edition in Indonesia.

As target practice, the Young Tigers will be heading off to Slovakia for weeks of preparations before the Games in December.

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