After six failed attempts since 2002 to progress beyond the group stages of the the AFF U16 Youth Football Championship, Cambodia’s junior side smashed through that threshold on Tuesday night with a well-deserved 3-0 win over Timor-Leste at the Olympic Stadium, paving the way for a semi-final clash against Group A winners Vietnam tonight.
Earlier in the day, defending champions Thailand defeated Laos 2-0 to head Group B.
Cambodia, whose only loss was to Thailand, finished second on nine points.
The Cambodia-Vietnam encounter kicks off at 6.30pm at Phnom Penh’s iconic Olympic Stadium after the first semi-final between Thailand and Australia at 3.30pm.
Cambodia took the pitch on Tuesday with relief after their closest rivals Laos were firmly beaten by Thailand, who came out of the stage without a loss.
Yet the home side could ill-afford complacency as a loss to Timor-Leste would have put them out of the competition.
A positive attitude from his players was what coach Inoue Kazunori demanded – and that’s precisely what he got from them.
“It was not an easy match, for sure, as the burden of expectation was weighing heavily,” said Inoue Kazunori after the match, while conceding that Cambodia have a tough assignment in the semis against Vietnam.
Two fierce exchanges in front of the Timor-Leste goal resulted in one of their defenders handling the ball.
Captain Yue Safy confidently struck the penalty in the top corner of the net, sending Timor-Leste goalkeeper Natalino Soares the wrong way.
With that slender half-time advantage, Cambodia were always on the look-out for consolidation, and in the 55th minute Mao Piseth exploited a goalmouth scramble to double the lead.
Barely minutes later, Piseth was back to grab another with a beautiful finish from the edge of the box.
“The penalty killed the momentum for us,” said Timor manager Amandio Sarmento.
The final and third place playoff are slated for 6.30pm and 3.30pm on Saturday respectively at the Olympic Stadium.