When Cambodia’s second longest serving national football head coach Lee Tae Hoon stepped out of his job early last year to a mixed reception of praise and pessimism the general impression was that the South Korean would leave the scene, but he is still around with an Under 15 National Academy squad of emerging talent trying to meld and weld them into a cohesive unit with an eye on the future to fill in the void established players inevitably create when they are past their prime.
In his three different stints beginning in 2010, he had his share of criticism the strategy and tactics, including his choice of players and formations.
He often unhesitatingly took the blame for poor results, and he was bold enough to be frank with the powers that be as to what ailed Cambodian football.
It is this openness that likley earned him the the backing of the Federation, and that trust led him to take Cambodia to the uncharted territory of the second round of World Cup qualification process and the third round of the Asian Cup qualifiers
And Lee Tae Hoon (pictured, Sreng Meng Srun) became the only foreign coach to steer the Kingdom past the qualifying stage of the Suzuki Cup to the tournament proper several years after the current coach Prak Sovanara did it in 2008 during his own first stint.
The South Korean strategist had none of those statistics in his mind when the Federation entrusted him with the task of managing the U15 Academy.
He willingly accepted the change of role as a challenge.
Now he is in Indonesia with the squad competing in the AFF U15 Championship being contested by 11 teams from the region and one sub federation in New Zealand in the cities of Gresik and Sidoarjo.
Optimism has always been Lee Tae Hoon’s strength no matter how tough or improbable the odds are of his side doing something sensational.
Cambodia are placed in Group A in the company of Indonesia, New Zealand, Myanmar, Timor Leste and the Philippines.
Group B consists of Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and Laos.
The matches are of 80 minutes duration with two halves of 40 minutes each. The top two teams from each group will play out crisscross semifinals fixed for August 9.
The final is scheduled for August 11 after the third place play off between the losing semifinalists.
Cambodia open their campaign against the Kiwis at the Gelora Joko Samudro Stadium in Gresik this Sunday at 3.30pm local time.
In intervals of two days, the Kingdom’s colts will clash with the Philippines, Timor Leste and Myanmar in that order, ending the Group stage against hosts Indonesia at the Gelora Delta Stadium in Sidoarjo on August 6.
“Building a strong team from the bottom up is very important,” Lee Tae Hoon said last week before departing to Malaysia to play a couple of warm up games there en route to Indonesia.
“We are placed among some of the toughest teams in our group, but that gives us an opportunity to gain valuable experience and also realise our own standing.”