Super-sub Chan Vathanaka struck a second-half brace and captain Khun Laboravy came up with a rousing finish in injury time to give Cambodia a 3-0 win over Macau yesterday at the jam-packed Old Stadium in the first leg of the Asian confederation’s pre-qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup.
The Kingdom will carry the three-goal cushion to the return leg in Macau on March 17. The winner of this home-and-away fixture will move into the 40-team, eight-pool second round to be held in June.
After a goalless first half, a dominant Cambodia were frustrated by several close misses and two stunning saves by visiting goalkeeper Ho Man Fai. Both Va Quentin and Khun Laboravy saw the Macau custodian spectacularly tip over their shots.
But the complexion of the game changed soon after the break when Cambodia coach Lee Tae Hoon brought on talented young striker Vathanaka to replace midfielder Sos Sohana.
Within a few minutes, Vathanaka found himself in the right place at the right time to make the most of a goalmouth scramble that led to the first goal of the game in the 64th minute.
Not long after the first blood had been drawn, Cambodia made a strong claim for what appeared to be a clear handball by one of the Macau players inside the box, but the Hong Kong referee Ho Wai Sing waved the appeals away.
With the momentum growing and a massive crowd support behind them, Cambodia kept piling on the pressure and the already battered Macau defence crumbled when Vathanaka’s fierce free kick struck the far post and cannoned into the goal.
Macau’s best counterattack came in these trying circumstances, but substitute Choi Weng Hou headed the ball straight to Cambodia’s goal-keeper Um Seriarith from close range.
Moments before the final whistle, striker and captain Khun Laboravy found himslf in space and slotted home the third goal of the match
“Vathanaka had some injury issues and he cannot play the full 90 minutes, so I normally bring him around the hour mark and he almost always does well. We should have scored at least a couple of goals in the first half we missed many chances,” noted Cambodia coach Lee Tae Hoon.
“After the third goal I feel a lot more comfortable going into the next match in Macau, but I have already warned the players that there is no room for complacency. We have still a job to finish and nothing can be taken for granted,” he said.
Macau coach Tam Iao San said the scoreline was terribly disappointing given the fact that his team had done a splendid job of defending in the first half and that the third Cambodian goal came in the final few seconds.
“We knew it would be a very tough match for us. But even after we went 0-2 down, we still had two clear chances we didn’t take,” the Macau coach said at the postmatch press briefing.
“Cambodia have a big advantage going into the next match. But we are playing at home and we hope to do our best,” he said.