There were reassuring words of praise from an unlikely source for Cambodia after Wednesday evening’s hard-fought goalless draw against China, as the home team sizes up its prospects against defending champions Japan in their highly important Group J fixture in the 2018 AFC U23 Championship China qualifiers at Olympic Stadium today.
In his post-match analysis, China coach Massimiliano Maddaloni felt that the pitch condition proved quite difficult for his team to play their game. However, what stood out was this comment from the Italian: “I respect Cambodia and, especially in midfield, they put us under lot of pressure throughout the game’’,
“Even Japan will face lots of difficulties against them, I am sure,” Maddaloni concluded, giving Cambodia plenty of inspiration to fight hard against a side who cruised home to an 8-0 win over an awestruck Philippines earlier in the afternoon.
National coach Leonardo Vittorino’s plan that his players had to target China in the middle of the pitch worked to his advantage, but having seen Japan decimate their rivals it will be interesting to see what ploy the Brazilian will adopt to deal with the defending champions and their propensity for aggression.
As Vittorino rightly acknowledged, it was a strong team effort by Cambodia that helped them fight on level terms with China. But it calls for a similar or even stronger commitment from the players to handle a well-rounded side like Japan and rein in such speedy and skilful players as Ren Komatsu, whose four goals brightened a grey and wet evening.
Even in the blaze of that big win, Japan coach Uchiyama Atsushi was still talking about lapses in concentration on the part of his players, indicating how tough a task master he can be.
But of greater significance was his comment that he anticipated the clash against Cambodia to be a tough one. Healthy respect of that kind from his rival should act as a spur for Cambodia to prove the Japanese coach right.
Before Cambodia and Japan kick off at 6:30pm, China will be up against the Philippines.
Japan may have deeply dented the Philippines confidence but coach Marion Maro is determined to turn things around.
Having booked their place in the finals as next year’s Championship hosts, there is no burden of qualification on China. But the coach is insistent that the team is here to hone its strengths.