Cambodia pulled off a sensational 1-0 win over Afghanistan in the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 third round qualifiers group clash yesterday evening, triggering wild celebrations at the iconic Olympic Stadium filled to its capacity of nearly 60,000.
National head coach Leonardo Vitorino, who had been under some pressure for a breakout win, greeted the outcome with as much delight as relief, joining the team members in a victory lap waving the Cambodian national flag.
That unbridled show of emotion by the players and the coach reflected the huge significance of the victory that came in the wake of Cambodia going through the World Cup qualifiers with just one goal to show in eight defeats and a heavy 0-7 loss to Jordan at the start of the Asian Cup campaign two months ago.
In a thrilling way, it was also sweet revenge of sorts for Cambodia, who had gone down to Afghanistan by a late goal when the two sides had met at the same venue two years ago.
After a stout-hearted performance during an evenly fought first half, Cambodia’s fortunes took a wild swing when Svay Rieng striker Prak Mony Odom produced an acrobatic effort moments before the hour mark to leave Afghanistan in a state of daze.
That snap goal – which was as brilliant in its execution as it was bizarre in its creation – almost instantly turned the game on its head as Cambodia piled on more pressure and very nearly doubled their lead. Chan Vathanaka’s brilliant approach and deft cross proved a bit too speedy for the onrushing Khun Laboravy who had an open goal greeting him.
A visibly shaken Afghanistan tried desperately to bridge the divide, but Sou Yaty between the Cambodian sticks was a man possessed on the night.
Despite taking an accidental kick in the first half from an Afghan player in the act of gathering the ball, Sou Yaty produced several outstanding saves to ensure a clean sheet.
Ironically, he was the only Cambodian player to pick up a yellow card after he got into a heated argument with an Afghan player following an incident involving Khun Laboravy who hit the ground after being challenged in the air by Afghan midfielder Amri. Eventually Amri also received a yellow even as tempers cooled down.
On the trip back, coach Otto Pfister might look back with some regret over several prominent chances that Afghanistan missed out on either due to their own inept finishing or Sou Yaty’s timely interventions.
With Cambodia earning the full set of points they move up to second in the group behind Jordan.