Coach Lee Tae Hoon’s men put the best foot forward on Saturday as Cambodia opened their title defence of the BIDC Cup, now renamed as the Mekong Region Youth International U21 Football Tournament, with a compact 2-0 victory over Laos in their Group B clash.
In gilding sunshine before a cheering crowd of more than 30,000 at the Olympic Stadium, Phourng Soksana peeled off his markers, sprawled low on his knees and nodded home 12 yards out off a Khoun Laboravy cross to give Cambodia a startling first half lead.
In the second session, in pouring rain and on a quagmire of a pitch, it was Laboravy who doubled the advantage five minutes from the end. This time the PKR hitman crashed a free kick through a hapless Lao defence.
The message to Laos was loud and clear. Give someone like Laboravy time and space and he will most definitely hurt you. Present him a free kick from the top of box he will ruthlessly kill you no matter,
whether it is rain or shine. Precisely what the second highest goal-scorer in this year’s Metfone C-League ended up doing.
Cambodia’s victory was not all about goals scored, it was also about goals denied, and Sou Yaty under the bar more than once stood between his side keeping the lead and Laos getting on level terms.
Coach Lee was generous in his praise after the match for the goalkeeper, pointing out that Sou Yaty had been as important a factor in their victory as the goal-scorers.
Laos fashioned their own chances. A Xaiongkham Champathong header off a delicious dink from Chanthapone Waenvongsoth landed on the roof of the net as early as 10 minutes. Then there was this fierce angular shot from Lembo Saysana palmed away by Sou Yaty.
But the Cambodian stopper’s best was to come minutes before the breather. An airborne Sou Yaty tipped over what appeared to be a certain goal from a Tokty Khounthoumphone long ranger. The visitors would never get a chance as good as this.
Laos coach Veunsavanh Sivisay blamed the defeat on his side’s spurned chances and some sloppy defending.
Both sides had frustrating experiences as a steady drizzle quickly turned into a heavy downpour at the start of the second half. As underfoot conditions began to impose ridiculous demands on the players, the action was more about slips and slides.
Both could count a few near misses and the home side was more than happy to ride home their slender lead until Laboravy put the game to bed and ensured a peaceful night for coach Lee Tae Hoon, whose biggest worry going into the game had been the backline.
“[Our defenders] did a fairly good job, though we certainly could have done better,” he said. “I still feel we left too many gaps for Laos forwards. We have to plug them.
“Midfielder Tum Saray, who had a quiet game, and defender Sok Rithy, who stood out among the back four, picked up cautions. Two yellow cards were dished out for Laos as well.”
Lee noted that the crowd had been “absolutely marvelous” and really lifted their spirits, referring to the near packed stands. The gates were thrown open free for the public for the opening day of the tournament and the 45,000 capacity stadium was full except for a few portions, with the most notable feature of the gathering being the presence of thousands of students.
While Laos take on Myanmar in their second Group B fixture at 3:30pm today, Cambodia enjoy three days of rest before meeting Myanmar in the group decider on Wednesday.
China’s Hongxian FC face Thailand in the second game carded for today. The Group A encounter kicks off at 5:30pm.