Cambodia’s footballers hope to fare better against Syria in their World Cup qualifying match in Oman on Thursday than they managed in the previous meeting of the sides.
The Asia zone Group E second-round clash kicks off at 8pm (11pm Cambodian time) at the Al-Seeb Stadium.
But expectations should be tempered due to Syria’s relative strengths and their track record, said Lee Tae Hoon, Cambodia’s head coach.
“We are playing one of the two best teams in the pool,” he said. The Kingdom’s players are being put through their paces in the coastal fishing city of Al-Seeb in the northwest of the Omani capital Muscat ahead of the game. Syria are playing their home games in Oman due to the ongoing conflict in their homeland.
Syria are a point behind Japan in Group E with 15 points from six matches going into the final match against Cambodia, having won 6-0 at Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium in September.
With Japan slated to host Afghanistan, the showdown between Japan and Syria on March 29 at the Saitama Stadium in Tokyo will decide the group winners and who will proceed to the next phase of qualifiers for a place at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
While Japan were held to a goalless draw by Singapore at the start of the campaign, Syria’s only defeat (3-0) had been at the hands of the Japanese at the Al-Seeb Stadium in early October last year. Both Japan and Syria have five wins each to their credit.
Cambodia have just one goal to show for the 21 they have conceded in seven successive defeats in this double-leg round-robin stage.
“We were unable to contain them when we hosted them,” the Cambodia coach said before the team departed for Muscat on Monday morning.
“It will be equally tough handling such a robust team as Syria on their own turf. I expect our players to do the best they can and hopefully we can put up a good show.”
He said that given Syria’s enormous strike power, it was inevitable for his side to defend in good numbers but stressed the need for his players to be alert on breakaways and make them count.
“The results have been most disappointing but the experience of playing at this level has been of great value for our players.
Our performance during the second half had been markedly better than the first four matches and I hope we can come out of this match with at least a respectable result,” Lee Tae Hoon said.
The Syrian camp has made it known the side will not rest on its laurels of past big wins and is ready to go all out to consolidate its standing in the pool and be psychologically ready for their massive match against Japan next week.
Syria got a much needed confidence boost in the run-up to this encounter by outplaying Iraq to win 1-0 in an international friendly in Tehran last week.
For millions of Syrians trapped in the war-torn country and for thousands of refugees scattered around the world, the footballers’ success on the pitch has been a source of pride.