Male, The Maldives
Cambodia finished bottom of group C in the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers after a demoralising 4-3 defeat in their consolation match against Kyrgyzstan on Friday. Remarkably, the result mirrored the one from their previous meeting at the 2007 Nehru Cup in New Delhi.
The Cambodian back line clearly hadn’t learnt from their first two matches at the Rasmee Dhandu stadium in Male by conceding yet another goal in the opening stages. Kyrgyzstan defender Talant Samsaliev stuck a vicious free kick, off which midfielder Sydykov Kuranbek scored from the rebound in the fourth minute.
Strikers Sok Pheng and Sam El Nasa were presented a handful of opportunities to strike back but they struggled to find the target. In the 29th minute, as Sok Pheng penetrated the penalty area, Kyrgyzstan midfielder Artem Muladjanov appeared to handle the ball, only for Chinese referee Zhao Liang to wave play on.
Ten minutes later, Cambodia finally broke their goalscoring drought in the Maldives with a neat header by Kouch Sokumpheak off a Sun Sopanha set piece.
Kyrgyzstan then retook the lead in injury time of the first half, with defender Rustem Usanov heading in a corner from Aziz Sydykov.
Three minutes after the restart, Sokumpheak bagged his second to level the scores again. A deft flick over Kyrgyzstan keeper Valery Kashuba left an empty net for Sokumpheak to tap into.
Sokumpheak nearly grabbed a merited hat-trick, but teammate Pheak Rady failed to release the ball to the striker in time as the Kyrgyzstan defence cleared.
With ten minutes of regulation time left on the clock, the game took a controversial turn. Cambodian full back Touch Pancharong was left writhing in pain on the turf and teammates attempted to boot the ball out. However, Kyrgyzstan seemed ignorant to their opponents intentions as substitute Cholponbek Esenkul Uulu stormed through with ease to net his side’s third. Despite sustained protests from the Cambodian players, the goal was allowed to stand.
In the 85th minute, and with Cambodia shorthanded due to pitchside treatment on Pancharong, Kyrgyzstab extended their advantage through Uulu, who hit a powerful shot from 35 metres past the reach of keeper Ouk Mich.
Cambodia coach Lee Tae Hoon pulled off Pancharong immediately afterwards, and brought on National Defence Ministry defender Thong Udom to complete all 20 of his squad members in action in the Maldives.
The Kingdom’s men managed to peg one back in the dying moments when Preah Khan Reach defender Sok Rithy headed in a corner cross by club mate Prak Mony Udom.
Cambodia looked dejected as they made their final exit from the field in Male, on a night when Phnom Penh Crown duo Peng Bunchhay and Sun Sopanha celebrated their birthdays.
In the post-match press conference, Lee Tae Hoon asserted that his side had progressed well from match to match. “This is a sign of improvement,” he said.
“We trained together just four days before coming [to the Maldives] because the players were busy with their clubs in the Hun Sen Cup. We had many chances but we failed to score.”
The Kyrgyzstan camp, meanwhile, appeared discontent despite grabbing their only victory of the group stage.
“I’m not happy with the performance.
Cambodia scored every chance they created” said assistant coach Murat. “Our defenders were suspended, so we gave a chance to young players in this international game.”
The Maldives and Tajikistan, who played out a goalless draw on Friday to see the hosts top group C, advance to the finals next year.
Palestine and the Philippines qualified from Group A matches played in Yangon, while India and Turkmenistan qualified from Group B matches played in Kuala Lumpur. Matches from Group D, featuring North Korea, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Afghanistan, are slated for April 7-11 in Nepal.