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U22s fly to Laos for AFC Asian Cup qualifiers

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Cambodia U22 striker Keo Sokngorn celebrates scoring against the Philippines during their June 13 friendly at Olympic Stadium. Photograph: Sreng Meng Srun/Phnom Penh Post

Cambodia’s U22 national team departed for Vientiane yesterday ahead of participation in Group F of the inaugural AFC U22 Asian Cup qualifiers, which kicks off tomorrow. Cambodia are bracketed with China, North Korea, Hong Kong, Thailand and hosts Laos.

In seven qualifying tournaments playing across the continent, 41 nations are vying for 15 places in the finals, which have been rescheduled for January 2014. The top two of each group plus the best third placed side out of all of them will advance.

Cambodia meet Hong Kong in their opening game tomorrow at 4pm Cambodian time at Chao Anouvong Stadium, while Thailand play North Korea concurrently at Laos National Stadium.

Before leaving yesterday, assistant coach Hok Sochetra said Cambodia had no concerns over injury. “All players are fit for the tournament, and we will see what happens next,” he said.

“I don’t have anything to say about the game against Hong Kong because we don’t know each other, but we will try our best.”

Khiev Sameth, vice-president of the Football Federation of Cambodia, told the Post recently that the tournament would be the best opportunity for Cambodian coaching staff to stake their claims for the job of national team coach.

“We are now looking for a new coach to replace Lee Tae Hoon. A local coach is our target. I think that local coaching staff can work smoothly with the players because they speak the same language,” said the vice-president said.

The U22 squad is led by Prak Somony and was reduced from 22 to 20 players following their friendly game against the Philippines on June 13, with Ministry of National Defence goalkeeper Um Vichet and defender Ke Vannak missing out.

Cambodia thrashed the Philippines 5-1 at Olympic Stadium but drew 0-0 against Vietnam club side Saigon FC in their earlier tune-up match.

Hong Kong U22s come into the game having beaten Macao 3-1 in the 68th Hong Kong-Macao Interport Cup.

They are led by Scottish-Australian coach Ernie Merrick, who previously managed the Australian A-League side Melbourne Victory FC.

Among the 23 players selected by Merrick, captain Lau Cheuk Hin, midfielders Chan Pak Hang and Lee Ka Yie, and striker Lam Hok Hei are most likely to cause Cambodia problems.

In tomorrow’s late kickoff at 7pm, hosts Laos clash with China at the Laos National Stadium. The Group F qualifiers, which features 15 fixtures, wraps up on July 3.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ung Chamroeun at chamroeun.ung@phnompenhpost.com

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