A strong second half resurgence marked by striker Sam El Nasa’s brace of headers and a stunner from unmarked Khoun Laboravy led Cambodia to a convincing 3-1 victory over Macau in the first leg of their AFC Challenge Cup qualifier at the Olympic Stadium yesterday.
After a fruitless first half during which El Nasa messed up two headers from close range and a Laboravy attempt was spectacularly saved by Macau goalkeeper Leong Chon Kit, the home side struck three successive blows by the same duo in a span of 15 minutes to put the tie beyond the visitors.
Macau capitalised on a rare unguarded moment in the Cambodian back line 15 minutes before the final whistle when substitute Leong Ka Hang produced a gem of a header off a beautiful chip towards the goalmouth by Che Chi Man. It was the only time Cambodian goalkeeper Ouk Mich had been seriously tested, with the home side captain having relatively easy time between the sticks.
“I think our defence lost total concentration in those baying moments when Cambodia put enormous pressure,” said Macau team manager Daniel Delgado De Sousa during the post match news conference.
“Once we conceded those three goals quickly, it was hard to come back. We did well to score a goal. I think we have a fighting chance going into our home game on February 16.
“We now know what we require, at least a 2-0 victory to make a match of it, and we will definitely try our best,” he added.
Macau coach Leung Sui Wing, who is from Hong Kong, noted they “forced to defend in great numbers” during the second half assault from Cambodia.
“But we changed our tactics a bit and began to go for the offensive, and I feel we did fairly well with that goal and several break-ins,” he said.
Cambodian national team coach Lee Tae Hoon, meanwhile, lauded the performance of centre forward Sam El Nasa.
“Sam El Nasa is a smart player and thinking one – he weaves his way in to the box and combines well with other frontliners. I had confidence in him,” said Lee.
“He missed a couple of chances in the first half, but he made ample amends in the second.”
Macau’s travails began with an innocuous looking clearance by defender Herculano Soares after he kicked the ball in haste to concede a corner when his goal keeper was poised to collect the ball. That tiny infraction cost Macau dear as Sun Sophana’s flag kick fell invitingly to an alert El Nasa.
Within minutes a peach of a cross from Kouch Sokumpheak dipped right in front of the goal for El Nasa to come up a with a low header.
The Macau misery was then completed when Laboravy hoodwinked the backline into a false sense of security to drive his strike past an off guard Leong.
With Cambodia working open spaces with diligence, coach Lee afforded the luxury of pulling El Nasa, Laboravy and Prak Mony Udom out of the firing line and bringing in Keo Sokngorn, Srey Veasna and Chan Rithy. The set of fresh legs caused some concern in the Macau ranks though the defenders managed to prevent any more goals.
“We were too reliant on long passes during the first half and this did not bring us any advantage,” said Lee. “So during the break we changed our strategy to short passing and I am happy it paid off well.
“I could not use Kim Borey because I thought he was not in good condition in the sense that he’d had hardly two days of training. That was the problem with the other two who rejoined the side from Thailand – Chan Rithy and Keo Soknogon – as well. I think with time they will blend will with the rest of the team.”
Lee said his strikers “did their job well,” after bemoaning the lack of firepower in the days leading up to yesterday’s match. “It is a good lead to carry to an away game – we need to build on it,” he added.
The Cambodian team will face Macau once more next Wednesday in the return leg.