With just one goal to show for five defeats so far in the World Cup qualifying campaign, Cambodia will be on the lookout for a positive turnaround when they face Afghanistan in their return Pool E clash at the Takhti Stadium in Tehran tomorrow.
Hardworking midfielder Mustafa Zazai struck a mortal blow late in that first encounter between the two sides to snatch a stunning victory for Afghanistan when Cambodia hosted them back in June.
But there were some of thrilling moments for Cambodia, notably Chan Vathanaka’s spectacular shot cannoning off the upright well before that lone goal settled the issue.
At the end of that game, the two coaches had seen the outcome in different ways. Afghan coach Slaven Skeledzic felt that the better team had won. Cambodia’s then interim coach, Kazunori Ohara had reasons to believe that missed chances had taken its toll on his side.
While that opportunistic 85th-minute strike had given Afghanistan their first and subsequently only win so far, Cambodia could never come quite as close as that in any of their other matches, though they did put up a gallant fight against Singapore last month.
Breaking the losing sequence must be national coach Lee Tae Hoon’s prime target, but he is well aware of how tough a proposition this could be given the physical superiority of the Afghans that was so glaring in that Phnom Penh contest.
Japan, Syria and Singapore are the leading trio in the group leaving these two teams to fight for nothing but national pride In his pre-match assessment, coach Skeledzic has made it clear he has healthy respect for Cambodia’s capabilities on the pitch but his side will spare no effort for the full set of points.
Dismissing out of hand suggestions that an element of luck had played a part in Afghanistan’s win last time, Skeledzic pointed out that the statistics proved otherwise.
“We had created more chances, We had greater possession we definitely were a better team on the day. Other than that, we were troubled somewhat by Cambodia defending deep.”
Meanwhile, coach Lee Tae Hoon has a much broader perspective of the campaign as a whole, driving home the message to his players that this has been an unmatched opportunity to play at this level of the game and they should make the most of it and give the massive fanbase that has been building in tens of thousands something to cheer.
The 6-1 victory over regional lightweights Brunei last week in a warmup game has served to lighten the mood in the camp. Match rigour could also be of some help in conditioning the players before this crucial game.
The coach is of the firm opinion that a positive outcome in Tehran could lift the team to a good showing against Asian powerhouse Japan when this much anticipated contest unwinds at the Olympic Stadium next Tuesday.
The match kicks off at 3pm local time (6.30pm Cambodian time). Adham Makhadmeh of Jordan will officiate the game.