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Thai discipline too much for Cambodia in games' opener

Cambodia’s U23s go down 4-0 to Thailand in the SEA Games Group A opener in Vientiane on Friday, with a brace in time added opening an overwhelming gap

Thailand forward Anawin Jujeen (left) fights for the ball with Cambodia defender Tieng Tiny during their SEA Games Group A match at the Chao Anouvong stadium in Vientiane Friday. AFP

CAMBODIA’S hopes of qualifying from Group A of the Southeast Asian Games U23 football competition were dealt a blow Friday with a 4-0 opening day defeat to Thailand in Vientiane. The damage was done in time added on at the end of the first half, with Thailand capitalising on sloppy defending to score twice and take a 3-0 half time lead. Up until that point, however, Cambodia were matching their experienced opponents closely.

Cambodia national coach Scott O’Donell expressed his disappointment of seeing his team concede two before the break. “That was the end of the game after that,” he said. “We’d done so well: 45 minutes and 1-nil down; it was excellent. The boys did really well. We were disciplined but then we conceded two soft goals. We maybe switched off, but the last four minutes weren’t good enough.

“To be fair we made it easy for them to score. It wasn’t their great play, it was us,” he admitted. “Poor defending and we were careless with our possession. We allowed them to get crosses in, no challenge on the crosses, and when that happens against teams like Thailand, we’ll get punished. That’s the lessons we’ve got to learn. It was always going to be uphill after going in 3-nil down.”

The Cambodian starting 11 was at relatively full strength, missing only the exciting wing play of the recently injured Nov Soseila. Thailand were without key defender Suttinun Phukhom and striker Teerasil Dangda, both of whom were injured, and made five changes to the team that drew 1-1 with Vietnam two days earlier.

Cambodia U23s coach Scott O'Donell (right) watches the game against Thailand from the dugout at the Chao Anouvong stadium Friday. AFP

Cambodia kicked off the game, which began in brilliant sunshine in the compact Chao Anouvong Stadium, in front of a lower-than-expected crowd of 700. It was Cambodia who had the better of the early exchanges, and in the 11th minute their normally reliable marksman Kuoch Sokumpheak was off target with his finishing. He charged down a clearance from Thai captain Kiatprawut Sawaeo, raced into the penalty box but sent his shot skidding across the goalmouth and agonisingly wide. Four minutes later, the Khemara striker took a pass from Chan Chhaya in his stride, but his well-struck drive from 15 yards out was safely gathered by Thai keeper Kawin Thamsatchanan.

Against the run of play, Thailand took the lead in the 16th minute. Adul Lahsoh’s defence-splitting pass sent Anawin Jujeen to the bye-line, and his cross found the head of Sompong Soleb, who made no mistake from 10 yards out.

On the half hour, Cambodia keeper Samreth Seiha spread himself to deny Anawin after he’d danced his way past three tackles and into the penalty area.

Another Cambodian opportunity went begging five minutes before the interval. A surging run and deep cross by Pheak Rady evaded everyone in the box except Keo Sokngorn, but the teenager leaned back as he blasted his drive over the crossbar from 15 yards.

Then disaster struck. In the first minute of added-on time, Arthit Sunthorphit’s left-wing cross was met firmly by Kirati Keawsombut, who rose unchallenged to head past Samreth Seiha. The goalkeeper was equally helpless a minute later as Thailand notched a third. Anawin escaped his marker, and his cross was scooped in by Sompong from the edge of the box.

The Cambodians trooped off dejectedly at the halftime whistle, knowing their hard work had been undone in those two final minutes.

After the break, with Cambodia seeking an early breakthrough, it was Thailand who edged further ahead. On 51 minutes, Anawin was again the architect, supplying a cross to Kirati, whose pass to Sompong allowed the striker to claim his hat trick with a deft finish. It was a sweet moment for the replacement striker, having missed three sitters against Vietnam a couple of days earlier.

Scott O’Donell sent on fresh legs in Prak Monyoudom and Khounla Boravy just before the hour, and they showed some nice touches but couldn’t penetrate the rock-solid Thai defence. Kuoch sent a header in the arms of the Thai keeper, and Keo did likewise with a 20-yard shot, as Cambodia tried in vain to reduce the deficit.

On 63 minutes, a reckless challenge on Anawin by Cambodia skipper Sun Sovannarith earned a booking, and Thailand a penalty. Arthit’s well-struck spot-kick was superbly pushed aside by Samreth Seiha, and the goalkeeper reacted quickly to block Sunthorphit’s follow-up. The keeper was again called into action three minutes from the end, when another fingertip save denied Sompong a fourth.

In time added on, the match ended on a sour note when players from both teams reacted to an incident on the midfield line. In the ensuing free-for-all, Kirati was booked for elbowing Tieng Tiny but the ugly melee was a more a reflection of Cambodia’s frustration with their own inability to match their Thai opponents.

O’Donell condemned his team’s behaviour. “I said to the boys that it’s not acceptable,” stated the coach. “Whatever happened I don’t care, I hate that kind of stuff, and I won’t accept it again.”

However, he conceded that his players had all worked hard and tried their best.

“[Kuoch] Sokumpheak’s chances were probably better than their chances,” O’Donell admitted. “But they took theirs, and we didn’t take ours. We’ve got to be smarter. That’s what happens when you play against good teams like Thailand.”

Thailand’s coach Steve Darby voiced his satisfaction. “We did our job,” he said. “It wasn’t great, but it was enough. Cambodia were well organized, they worked hard and didn’t make it easy for us. They will be difficult to break down for any team in this group.”

Later Friday, plucky Timor Leste held out for 54 minutes against Vietnam before finally succumbing to a 4-0 defeat in their Group A tie. Midfielder Mai Tien Thanh netted a hat trick, with substitute Phan Thanh Binh claiming the other goal.



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