Cambodia’s Soun Veasna shields the ball from Tajikistan’s Farkhod Tokhirov during their match. Photo by: SINAN HUSSEIN
Malé, the Maldives
Cambodia suffered a second comprehensive defeat in the AFC Challenge Cup on Wednesday night to end their dreams of qualification to the final rounds next year. A 3-0 loss to 2006 champions Tajikistan at the Rasmee Dhandu stadium confirmed elimination for the side coached by South Korean Lee Tae Hoon, who made six changes from Monday’s lineup that had lost 4-0 to the host nation.
In a near carbon copy of the first game, Cambodia fell behind almost immediately to a cross-come-shot from Tajikistan midfielder Nuriddin Davronov, the ball looping over the head of second choice goalkeeper Peng Bunchhay.
The Kingdom’s men showed resilience, however, with several energetic attacks against the central Asian side and a succession of ultimately fruitless corner kicks from the trusted left foot of Chan Rithy.
In the 24th minute, Tajikistan defender Sohib Savankulov knocked a pass back a little to close to Cambodia’s Kouch Sokumpheak, but the Phnom Penh Crown striker failed to capitalise on the mistake.
Moments later, 2011 Samdech Hun Sen Cup hotshot Khuon Laboravy saw his sweet strike off a headed layoff by Chan Rithy well matched by Tajikistan keeper Alisher Dodov.
In the dying minutes of the half, Sokumpheak had a powerful shot from a corner kick cleared off the line by defenders.
Tajikistan went looking to add to their slender advantage in the second period, but Cambodian skipper Tieng Tiny alongside Pheak Rady, Sok Rithy and Touch Panhcharong were thwarting the advances well. At the other end, substitute Sok Pheng’s long rang blast was saved by Dodov.
With tension mounting in the final stages, a lapse of concentration by the Cambodian youngsters allowed defender Davronjon Ergashev to steal in and net a close range effort to double their lead in the 83rd minute.
In the last minute of regulation time, keeper Peng Bunchhay allowed the final nail to be driven into Cambodia’s coffin as his misjudged pass fell to Farkhod Tokhirov. The Tajikistan striker set up teammate Ibrahim Rabimov to seal their advance in the competition.
Lee Tae Hoon was encouraged by his team’s performance despite the disappointing scoreline. “You played well in the first 70 minute. You showed us great energy,” he said to his players in the dressing room after the match.
In response to questions from journalists over his significant squad changes from the first game, the South Korean revealed he wanted to let his younger players gain valuable experience.
“They are improving, they performed well in the match,” he said. “This is the good step for them.”
Tajikistan coach Pulod Kodirov also admitted to fielding a youthful side. “We gave them experience, but I will field a strong side against Maldives,” he said ahead of tonight’s match against the hosts.
“I’m not happy with the performance. We had many chances to score, but we didn’t deserve to,” he added.
The Maldives also ensured qualification for the finals with a 2-1 win over Kyrgyzstan on Wednesday, and will vie with Tajikistan for group topping honours in their game played at 6pm Cambodian time tonight.
Cambodia, meanwhile, will play a consolation match against Kyrgyzstan at 11pm Cambodian time tonight.
The teams first met in 2007 at the Nehru Cup tournament in New Delhi. Current squad members Chan Rithy, Sam El Nasa and Tieng Tiny featured in the line up then that lost 4-3 to Kyrgyzstan.