Less than a month after taking over as national head coach from South Korean Lee Tae-hoon, Brazilian Leonardo Vitorino faces the biggest challenge of his career, when he guides Cambodia through the yearlong qualification process for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.
The 44-year-old has tasted a fair measure of success at club level, winning league titles with Thailand’s Buriram and Laos’ Lanexang United. But as the Cambodia post is his first job with an international side, the demands of a nation are clearly higher.
The long journey begins tonight at the King Abdullah II Stadium in Amman, where 172-ranked Cambodia square off against a formidable Jordan, who at 107 are the highest ranked team in the FIFA list among the 24 competing in the third round of the group stage.
While Vitorino and his players venture into uncharted territory, Jordan, twice quarterfinalists in the Asian Cup, will be eager to better that record.
Cambodia assistant coach Ung Konyanith told The Post yesterday: “The team arrived here five days before the match to get accustomed to the weather and to have lots of time training together on tactics and techniques.
“We know Jordon are a strong team and recently beat Hong Kong 4-0. But we will focus on defence very much, and we will be ready to counterattack if they take us lightly.”
Bringing considerable continental and international experience along with a strong physicality to the match, Jordan will meet a youthful and energetic Warriors side that has been gaining experience at higher levels of football over the past two years after qualification to the second round of the World Cup qualifiers and securing a place in the Suzuki Cup proper. Indeed, Cambodia will be eager to make the most of this opportunity to play against some of Asia’s strongest sides.
Cambodia’s gutsy showing against India in a friendly days before they departed for Jordan would have given the coach and players many positives, though the fans would have been left somewhat disappointed after the 3-2 defeat despite an excellent performance in a hard-fought game.
The return to national duty of Chan Vathanaka and Thierry Chantha Bin from their overseas league stints no doubt works to Vitorino’s advantage. But the Brazilain repeatedly insists teamwork is a core principle of his sides.
The match can be seen live on BTV News at 11pm Cambodian time.