Displaying a positive attitude, Cambodia forced higher ranked China to a goalless draw, as defending champions Japan swamped the Philippines 8-0 in the opening Group J fixtures of the AFC U23 Championship qualifiers at a rain-hit Olympic Stadium yesterday evening.
A smiling Cambodia coach Leonardo Vittorino hugged his Chinese counterpart Massimiliano Maddaloni after the hard-fought encounter, which clearly indicated the Brazilian’s satisfaction with the outcome, though he would have wished his players had done better with the chances they had in the first half.
China really applied the pressure in the last 15 minutes, but the home side saw out that demanding phase with gusto to share the spoils.
With star players like Prak Mony Odom and Chan Vathanaka having crossed the age threshold, the side Cambodia fielded was short on experience. But they more than made up for it in spirit against opponents ranked at least 40 places higher.
Undeterred by intermittent rain that threatened to spoil the game and unfazed by China’s reputation, Cambodia got off to a confident start with Hoy Phailin firing a warning shot early. His drive soared way over the bar but it at least conveyed the home team’s aggressive intent.
Not long after this initial thrust, Chom Pisa and Son Vandeth had decent attempts, though both traded power for accuracy.
A fierce strike from Chheng Meng passed the right post by inches, raising hope of a goal for Cambodia but, when this dominant phase passed, it was China who began to assert their strikepower.
Cambodian goalkeeper Oum Sereyrath, who did an excellent job in goal throughout, responded well to a Xiang Baixu header from close range and then read Zhang Xiuwei’s powerful effort from the edge of the box well.
Another bold Chinese attempt came from the foot of midfielder Tang Shi as the teams headed for the break in a goalless deadlock.
It was Cambodia who threatened to score after resumption, but the initiative gradually passed to the other side as China began to crowd the Cambodian box menacingly. But the defence and Sereyrath stood up to those calls, dealing well with several corners and a couple of free kicks
Japan match rains goals
Four goals from 18-year-old Tokyo-born Ren Komatasu gave Japan a breezy start to their defence of the title they won last year in Qatar.
Miyoshi Koji opened the floodgates in the 10th minute and Komatsu quickly doubled the lead in the 23rd minute. Six minutes later the teenager completed his brace and saw Morishima stretch the lead to 4-0 before completing his coveted hat-trick going into the break.
Less than a minute after the restart, Komatsu bagged his fourth. Yuka Nakasaka and Ito Hiroki chipped in to round off the Japanese tally.
Japan’s coach Uchiyama Atsushi said it was a good result for an opening game and anticipated the clash against Cambodia on Friday to be a difficult one.
Philippine coach Marion Maro said his team was exposed and that it is always a challenge against strong sides like Japan.