Injury time goal for Myanmar Thursday ruined Cambodian hopes in AFC qualifiers in Bangladesh
THE Cambodian national football team returned home from their AFC Challenge Cup exploits in Bangladesh with a win and two defeats to show for their efforts.
In their final match against qualifying-group winners Myanmar Thursday, they went down to a solitary goal in the 4th minute of injury time.
Needing a win to retain any lingering hopes of qualifying themselves, Cambodia head coach Prak Sovannara selected his strongest line-up and it nearly reaped rewards. Two guilt-edged chances, including a freekick from San Narith that hit both goalposts, summed up Cambodia's only failing in the game - a lack of goals. In all other respects, they easily matched and often bettered their more-fancied opponents, only to be caught out by a sucker punch in injury time when Yaza Win Thein pounced on some defensive uncertainty to score in the 94th minute.
It was a cruel end to Cambodia's AFC Challenge Cup adventures after an opening day one-goal reversal to Bangladesh, followed by a workmanlike 2-1 success over bottom team Macau.
Myanmar and hosts Bangladesh make it through to next year's eight-team finals in India.
Prak Sovannara remained upbeat after his team's mixed showing in the three matches. "I saw the players visibly grow in confidence as the tournament progressed and, with such a young squad, that gives me confidence for the future," he said. "Players like Samreth Seiha, Khim Borey and Keo Sokngorn, all teenagers, have many years to improve and grow in the national team. They played with a lot of freedom against Myanmar and that pleased me so much.
"The team spirit was there for all to see, our teamwork was good and we played confidently. They followed my instructions and we deserved better results against both Macau and Myanmar for the football we played. I am frustrated we didn't qualify we were good enough as any team and with better finishing and a bit of luck, we could've gone to the finals."
His overall impression from the tournament was one of promise. "I was very pleased to see such a big improvement in our defending," he noted. "We have made great strides in restricting our opponents goal threat. We had to work hard in midfield and now we need to work on improving our attack, especially finishing and supporting our strikers.
"One of the few disappointing aspects from our play in Bangladesh was our failure in front of goal. Against Macau we had a hatful of opportunities to score, and didn't. And again against Myanmar we had perfect chances to score. So this is something we really need to work on, as a team unit, not just our strikers."
The head coach was quick to shower praise on his players, picking out three players who really impressed him in Bangladesh. "I was really pleased with Teab Vathanak on the left side of midfield. He had a long injury lay-off last year and he came back so strongly in the games against Macau and Myanmar. He was excellent. Also centre-half Om Thavrak played so well, his commitment was very good. And Keo Sokngorn is a wonderful prospect at just 17 years old. He always gives 100 percent and has great talent. I have to be careful not to expose him too quickly but he is a player with a very big future ahead of him."
Prak Sovannara is now focused on the future. "The next task is to build the team up for the SEA Games at the end of the year," he said. "I hope I will be given the opportunity to do that."
Photos by Nick Sells (www.nicksellsphotography.com)