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'No problem' for qualifiers


Kuoch Sokumpheak (left) will lead the charge upfront for Cambodia with fellow national team veteran Khim Borey and lively winger Keo Sokngorn against Laos, East Timor and the Philippines.
Cambodia coach Lee Tae Hoon thinks his side will play well at the AFF Suzuki Cup qualifyiers in Laos, which kick off today.

Photos by: Sreng Meng Srun

THE day of reckoning is upon the Kingdom’s national team marshaled by head coach Lee Tae Hoon of South Korea. The qualifying tournament for the biennial AFF Suzuki Cup gets under way at the National Sports Complex in Vientiane today with four regional neighbours vying for one of the two slots in the finals.

The Cambodian team landed in Laos Wednesday with their morale high ahead of today’s tilt against a young but highly motivated bunch from the host nation. The event officially kicks off with a clash between the newest and smallest nation of East Timor and a Philippines side bursting with confidence after a 5-0 goal fest against Macau in a warm up game.

“No problem” was coach Lee’s sharp and smiling comment Monday prior to their departure, underlining the significance of the nearly two months intensive training. “I think the boys will play well,” he added. “We still have to sort out our problem areas, like the backline, but overall the side appears to be in good shape and spirits.”

One source of worry for the coach has been the tendency of the defence to leave huge gaps, a flaw he intends to deal with by asking the backline to play deeper than normal.

Experienced strike partners Kouch Sokumpheak and Khim Borey will be joined up front by talented winger Keo Sokngorn, with Tum Saray and Nuth Sinoun expected to come off the bench.

It is interesting to see who will wear the captain’s armband, with the choice apparently narrowed down to defender Tieng Tiny and first-choice goalkeeper Ouk Mich.

While the Cambodian side boasts considerable speed in its ranks, endurance is what the coach has been emphasising and perhaps could be of crucial importance against a Laotian side starring 22-year-old hitman Lamnao Singto, who used to play in the Thai Premier League. Two other Laos players to watch are midfielder Sunthalay Saysongcham and defender Chanda Laphone Liapraisey.

The Cambodian team can draw some inspiration from the 2008 qualifiers played on home turf when coach Prak Sovannara saw his squad beat Laos 3-2 and Brunei 2-1 to advance to the next round.

On Sunday, Cambodia take on East Timor, before winding up their campaign on Tuesday against the Philippines.

East Timor were mere whipping boys when they played in their inaugural competition in 2004, conceding as many as 18 goals. However, their true grit was reflected in goals against the Philippines as well as Myanmar. East Timor's best-remembered performance was a 2-2 draw against Cambodia two years ago, and a major factor in the revival of the team’s fortunes has been the success of their boys side, which made the final of this year’s U16 AFC Cup.

The Philippines players have already fired a warning shot to their three rivals with a 5-0 thrashing of Macau on October 12 in a friendly where all their virtues were on display. In 20-year-old keeper Neil Etheridge, who is English Premier League side Fulham’s second-choice stopper, the side has a pair of reliable hands. They narrowly missed out on qualification last time out, which came down to goals scored, and are eager to turn things around this year.
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The Cambodian squad
Ouk Mich, Peng Bunchhay, San Narith, Lay Raksmey, Pheak Rady, Tieng Tiny, Rang Borin, Sok Rithy, Sun Sophana, Chhun Sothearath, Eang Piseth, Phuong Soksana, Khuonla Boravy, Tum Saray, Keo Sokngorn, Khim Borey, Kouch Sokumpheak and Nuth Sinoun.

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