The Cambodian senior team’s year-long campaign in the third round of the 2019 Asian Cup qualifiers ended on Tuesday night when the Angkor Warriors fell 2-1 to Afghanistan to wrap up their Group C matches.
The victory at the neutral venue of the Pamir Stadium in Tajikistan capital Dushambe came as revenge for the Afghans after their 1-0 loss at Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium in June.
Making no difference to qualifying from the group as Jordan and Vietnam had pulled themselves far away, this match from the start was all about pride.
The robust and physically superior Afghanistan, who have been forced to play all their away matches in a third country due to the turmoil in their own, had the final say in the best possible fashion,
Afghanistan’s only victory on top of three draws and two defeats left them a distant third with six points behind Jordan, who topped the table with 12 points to Vietnam’s 10 after the two sides battled to a 1-1 draw in Amman on the same night.
Cambodia, with three points after the victory over Afghanistan, brought up the rear of the four-team group.
Laboravy gives Warriors hope
The coach responsible for Cambodia’s first foray into this level of competition, South Korean Lee Tae Hoon made way for Brazilian Leonardo Vittorino, under whose watch the Kingdom began the group stage with a 7-0 drubbing by Jordan in Amman.
The beleaguered Brazilian, whose only high point during a brief but disappointing stint was that 1-0 win over Afghanistan, had left by the time Jordan came to Phnom Penh for the return clash.
The Football Federation of Cambodia recalled veteran coach Prak Sovannara for a third term to revive the side, and he ended up inspiring the team to an improved performance against the Jordanians, who eventually squeezed out a 1-0 win.
Entrusted once again with the task of completing the qualifying campaign, Sovannara picked a squad that included four star players who are currently pursuing their league careers in the Malaysian top flight.
On Tuesday night, the Afghans proved hard to handle after they took a 2-0 first-half lead.
But within six minutes of coming off the bench as a replacement for Sos Suhana just past the hour mark, seasoned forward Khoun Laboravy gave the Angkor Warriors a flicker of hope with a tidy finish off a Prak Mony Udom corner.
Positives for Sovannara
However, the visitors could make no further headway in the crucial run home.
Chiang Mai FC midfielder Mustafa Azadzoy opened the scoring for Afghanistan in the 26th minute, getting on the end of a right wing cross.
The Afghans doubled the lead a minute before the break after Cambodia lost the ball in their own area, with Jabar Sharza the danger man, the 23-year-old forward doubling the Khurasan Lions’ lead with a strong left footed finish.
Sovannara brought on Preah Khan Reach Svay Rieng midfielder Hoy Phalin fairly early in the game and gave promising Boeung Ket defender Sath Rosib some vital playing time towards the end.
Despite the narrow defeat, Sovannara still has a lot of positives to bring home as he turns his focus to the Kingdom’s colts taking a shot at the Hassanal Bolkiah Trophy under-21 tournament in Brunei in April that involves Asean member nations.