The veteran of many battles, Prak Sovannara is in no doubt that today’s AFC Asian Cup third-round qualifying Group C encounter against Jordan at the Olympic Stadium at 6:30pm is the toughest he can recall in his three stints as Cambodia’s national coach spread over nearly nine years.
Named the Kingdom’s interim coach for the friendly against Myanmar last week and this crucial qualifying return leg following the sacking of Brazilian Leonardo Vittorino last month, Sovannara’s two-match reign is hardly future-defining, but the timing and circumstances in which he finds himself on the touchline have made this game something out of the ordinary for the 45-year old tactician.
As disappointing as the 2-1 defeat by Myanmar was, Sovannara said yesterday that he preferred to move on and count the positives that came his way rather than dwell on the outcome.
“I was hoping for a draw after we equalised. But we lost. Briefly we lost our focus and ended up paying for it. But Jordan is a different proposition all together,” he told The Post.
“Teams are judged by their physical, technical and mental strength, and in which of these areas can I say Cambodia has shown to be better than Jordan? We have to face the facts. It is a daunting task to overturn a 7-0 first-leg defeat, but that does not mean we give up. We will fight to the best of our abilities.”
The former Preah Khan Reach, Naga and Boeung Ket coach said the first thing he advised his players was not to go in with a defeatist attitude but to keep their spirits high and fight as hard as they can.
“I have confidence in my players that they will do their best. Playing at home could also work both ways. It could put pressure on the home team just as much as the crowd size could impact the psyche of the visitors. I hope the players will deliver a positive result for the crowd and the country,” Sovannara said.
While Jordan coach Jamal Abu Abed assertively said his target was to get three points and maintain the team’s unbeaten record so far, he played down the significance of Jordan’s huge home win when the two sides met at the start of the campaign.
“It is a different game this time,” was how Abu Abed countered the issue as he reserved opinion on whether Jordan’s decidedly superior physicality could be a decisive factor.
Weighing in on the same topic, Sovannara conceded that on the physical aspects of the game, and to a large extent on the technical side too, Jordan clearly came out in front.
‘I need players who can stand up’
The Cambodian coach made no bones about making some radical changes to the starting line-up compared to the one that took the field against Myanmar last week.
“I need to have players in the line-up who can stand up and compete with stronger players. So I have made up my mind on a few changes and hopefully they work,” he said.
Cambodia’s only win in the campaign came against Afghanistan when Prak Mony odom scored the match winner late in the game at Olympic Stadium.
Jordan and Vietnam jointly head the table with eight points each, and the visitors to Phnom Penh will be keeping an eye on the My Dinh National Stadium in Hanoi where Vietnam face Afghanistan.
Cambodia are third on three points.
The four-team group will complete the stage next march when Jordan take on Vietnam in Amman and Cambodia play Afghanistan at a neutral venue.
So far during the qualifying cycle, Jordan, who are looking for their third consecutive AFC Cup appearance, were held to a goalless draw by Vietnam. Then Afghanistan pulled off a surprise of sorts by holding the Jordanians level at 3-3.