Wounded pride is certain to trigger passions in both Cambodia and Afghanistan as their national teams cross paths at the Olympic Stadium today in the Asian Confederation’s 2018 Football World Cup qualifiers on the back of heavy defeats in opening Group E fixtures last Thursday.
By the time the game kicks off at 6:30pm, the anticipation will be for another sellout crowd to cram the stadium just like the other night when Cambodia hosted Singapore and went down 4-0 to the Lions in the first leg.
At about the same time away in Tehran, which is officially the venue for all of Syria’s home matches, the Lions of Khorasan, as the Afghan football team is nicknamed, were mauled by Syria 6-0, a scoreline German Bosnian coach Slaven Skeledzic felt concealed the gritty performance his team displayed.
“It happens once in a while. Syria have never played that kind of football in 10 or 20 years. Every shot at goal turned into goals that day. We could not make our chances count.
“I think we did play very well despite what the score indicates,” Skeledzic told a media conference at the Football Federation of Cambodia headquarters yesterday morning.
According to the coach, the Afghan gameplan will be to make more attacking inroads and, being well aware of the pace of the Cambodian front line, to be extra vigilant at the back.
“Having lost our opening match, just like Cambodia, I expect this to be a tough and close match. But we are in Cambodia to win,” declared Skeledzic, who took over the reins of the Afghan team early this year.
One of the casualties from that Syrian defeat is first choice goalkeeper Mansur Faqriryar, who has been capped 17 times. The injured Mansur will sit this match out.
Meanwhile, Cambodia coach Kazunori Ohara is optimistic that the new arrivals from the under-23 squad will help him find better formations on the pitch. Several key players from the SEA Games campaign, which ended last week, will bolster the team composition.
Asked what went wrong last Thursday night against Singapore, the coach said: “I can not pinpoint one particular area – it’s several aspects combined. I have tried to find solutions for them and I am hopeful of a better performance today.”
Both coaches agreed that physicality will be a crucial factor. While Ohara suggested that the much bigger Afghan players may have an edge in close tackles, Skeledzic indicated that it may also work against his side what with the movement at pace which some of the Cambodian players are capable of.
There is one common thread running through both camps – the anxiety to stave off a reverse. As Skeledzic succinctly put it: “Japan is at one level; the other four are at another level. So we have to win here.”
If the German Bosnian is held to his prediction that the game will be close, unlike their bitter experiences in the previous games, then there will be plenty to cheer for another massive crowd, the likes of which had not been seen in Phnom Penh for decades.