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Victory crucial for Cambodia

The Kingdom’s U23 football team head into their third group A fixture against Malaysia today knowing that a loss will effectively end their semifinal hopes

CAMBODIA’S U23 team face Malaysia 5:45pm today at the Chao Anouvong Stadium in Vientiane, knowing that nothing less than a positive result will keep alive their hopes of grabbing one of the two semifinal qualifying places from Group A. Malaysia thumped East Timor 11-0 in the opening game of the football competition but went down 3-1 to Vietnam Sunday to leave their own hopes of qualification in the balance.

Malaysia’s current SEA Games experience got off to a stuttering start when their scheduled flight from Kuala Lumpur was suspended for a day as they’d failed to get international flight clearance, though they quickly put that behind them with the record-breaking victory against East Timor. Eight different players scored against Timor with Ahmad Shakir Ali netting a hat trick. In their second game against Vietnam, they had influential midfielder Zaquan Adha Razak sent off in the final minute and he will miss the game against Cambodia.

Malaysia’s team coach K. Rajagopal has warned his players not to take Cambodia for granted as they seek their first SEA Games gold medal in 20 years, with their last success coming on home territory in Kuala Lumpur in 1989.

“We must not underestimate any team, including Cambodia,” said Rajagopal. “We can’t afford another slip-up in our bid to qualify for the semifinals. I haven’t seen anything of Cambodia apart from their two games here. We recorded a larger win than I expected against Timor, but that has gone now.”

His opposing coach, Cambodia’s Scott O’Donell has identified Malaysia from the outset as tough opponents, bracketing them with Vietnam and Thailand as the three key teams in the group. “Malaysia are a good team and they’ve had some impressive results leading up to the SEA Games,” stated O’Donell. “They’ve been together for a long time. It’s going to be a tough game, but I’ve got confidence in my boys.”

After watching their defeat against Vietnam, O’Donell thought Malaysia would be disappointed. “They were pretty much outplayed by Vietnam,” he said. “Once Vietnam got that third goal they sat back. The boy who got sent off [Razak] is a good player, he’s scored a few goals. He’ll be a loss for them.

“They play the ball around well, are technically good players and its going to be tough for us,” added the Cambodian coach. “If we go out there and do our best, anything can happen.”

O’Donell played a season in Malaysia in 1994 with Tampines Rovers and lived for a while in Kuala Lumpur before taking on his second stint with Cambodia earlier this year.

Malaysia haven’t exactly been starved of SEA Games success despite those 20 lean years without a gold medal. They won silver in 2001 when the competition was switched to an U23 format and the bronze medal in 2003 and 2005. The last meeting between the two teams in SEA Games competition was in Manila in 2005 with Malaysia recording a 5-0 success. In their six previous meetings in the SEA games, Malaysia have won on each occasion.

Cambodia’s influential skipper Sun Sovannarith is suspended for the game after picking up two yellow cards, so coach Scott O’Donell will be forced to alter his starting eleven. Possible replacements for the captain are Touch Pancharong or Lay Raksmey.

With such a strong group, the likelihood is that qualification will go down to the wire, maybe even goal difference, so Malaysia’s trouncing of Timor could still hold them in good stead. On Friday, the last day of qualification, Cambodia will face Vietnam at Chao Anouvong Stadium while Malaysia wrap up their campaign against the favourites and eight-time winners Thailand at the National Stadium. Both games kick off at 3pm.

Both Cambodian and Malaysian football fans will be unable to see today’s game live in their respective countries after the Laotian organisers demanded such a large television rights fee that neither country’s main broadcasters took up the option of taking live television coverage.



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