Cambodia face Chinese Taipei on Thursday in the first leg of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualifying playoff at the National Stadium in Kaohsiung City.
The Angkor Warriors, who are among 10 nations eager to take a step closer to qualifying for the tournament in the United Arab Emirates, will face Chinese Taipei in the return fixture at Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium on June 7.
The reward for the five winners of these double headers is a place in the third round of the qualifying process.
The losers, on the other hand, will join Bhutan for another round of playoffs on September 6 and October 11 to fight for three more slots on offer for elevation to round three.
The mood in the Cambodian camp on the eve of the team’s departure to Taipei was upbeat following a confidence-enhancing 2-0 win over Timor Leste in an international friendly on Sunday.
But as coach Lee Tae Hoon indicated after the game that he is not going overboard on it, though he did acknowledge the benefit of hard work as a good build up for a crucial fight against a decidedly stronger opposition.
Interestingly, Chinese Taipei and Cambodia share a common thread of history in that both sides made it to the second round of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers in 2015 for the first time.
While both teams were all the wiser for that experience of playing at that elevated level in the Asian zone, neither could pick up a single point in their double-round group games.
Despite finding themselves often out of depth during that year-long qualifiers campaign, the Cambodian team enjoyed several inspiring moments, especially in the hard-fought away loss to Singapore and in restricting four-time Asian Cup-winners Japan to a narrow victory
Aggressive show against Thailand
“If some of our key players use that invaluable experience and play to their full potential we have a good chance of coming through this tie,” said Lee Tae Hoon.
The return earlier this year of Toshiyaki Imai as the head coach in his second stint with the Chinese Taipei side after a gap of nine years bodes well for the team since the Japanese tactician was given full credit for changing the face of the country’s football when he first assumed charge of the national team in 2005.
The home side did show its fighting qualities in a couple of matches involving stronger Southeast Asian giants during their cup qualification run.
The one that stood out was against Vietnam. The game was evenly poised at 1-1, before Chinese Taipei conceded the match winner in stoppage time.
Of greater significance was the side’s aggressive show against Thailand in a game where Chinese Taipei led their rivals twice before the four-time ASEAN champs slammed in two goals in as many minutes to seal the deal.