History beckons for the Cambodian National football team as it makes a foray today into a level of competition the Kingdom had never been in.
Led by Japanese strategist Kazunori Ohara, Cambodia will square off against familiar regional foes Singapore at the Olympic Stadium in the second round Group E opener of the Asian Confederation’s 2018 World Cup qualifying cycle. The game, expected to draw a huge crowd, will be played under lights after its 6:30pm kick off.
“We have no reason to underestimate any one in the group. We respect our opponents. We have to remain focused for 90 minutes and see who comes out best,” declared Singaporean head coach Bernd Stange at a media conference yesterday.
“Our preparations have been smooth. We do miss a couple of key players who are in the SEA Games campaign. We have no injury concerns and we are ready to field the best” said the German coach who has a winning percentage of 47.8 for the Lions since he took over in May 2013.
“We lost one friendly against Thailand 2-0 in late March, but we won 5-1 against Brunei at home last week. Earlier we had drawn 2-2 against Guam and beat Bangladesh away 2-1 in other warm-up games. So the preparations have gone well,” he said.
“We have a clear picture in this group and that is Japan is very strong. But you never know in football. We are here to win, and I am optimistic of a positive result,” said Bernd Stange, who indicated that he had seen signs of progress in the Cambodian side since its 2-0 loss to Singapore in a Pre-Suzuki Cup encounter.
But how well can Cambodia muzzle the roar of the Lions? The national coach’s simple prescription is: “Keep your cool but play tough. You can’t control the performance of your opponent, but you can control your own,” said Kazunori Ohara within the earshot of team captain Khouch Sokhumpheak, seated next to him during the media briefing.
The captain later told the Post that the key to the team’s performance would be to keep the back end tight and lose no opportunity to launch counters. “Our front line formations are very important” he noted.
“We have been preparing for a month now. We have learnt our lessons from the two recent friendlies, a draw against Laos at home and a 1-0 win over Myanmar at Bangkok. What I need from the players is a firm commitment and focus,” said Kazunori Ohara.
“We have to keep in mind that Singapore are placed well above us in FIFA Rankings, which reflects their strength. We have to play our best” he explained.
Brought in as Football Federation of Cambodia’s technical director a few months ago, Ohara was entrusted with the task of coaching the senior side for the games against Singapore and Afghanistan (June 16) since South Korean Lee Tae Hoon has been running the Under-23 side’s SEA Games campaign.
Meanwhile, Ohara clarified the position regarding one of the key players, Kim Borey, whose mother passed away a couple of days ago. Difficult and strenous as the timing had been for the player, the coach said Kim Borey had rejoined the training on Tuesday and will be available for selection.
It has now been confirmed that war ravaged Syria’s home matches will be played as desired by the country in Oman while Trouble torn Afghanistan has chosen Iran as its choice for the home games.