It’s crunch time for Cambodia today in the ongoing AFF Suzuki Cup qualifiers as manager Lee Tae Hoon’s squad square off at 3:30pm against a buoyant East Timor at the New Laos National Stadium in Vientiane.
Myanmar will take on Brunei in the day’s second fixture from 6:30pm.
After going down 3-2 to hosts Laos from the relative comfort of 2-2 with 10 minutes left in the opening round four days ago, Cambodia face a stress test in seeking nothing but a victory that would keep their chances of advancing alive.
The mood in the Cambodian camp is one of anguish and serious contemplation while East Timor are brimming with confidence after their goalless draw against Myanmar on Tuesday following their 4-2 win over Brunei in the opener.
Laos brushed aside Brunei 4-2 on Tuesday for their second win to be within touching distance of one of the qualifying spots. East Timor, who are clear second in the standings behind Laos going into today’s match, will be eager to secure their own future with a win against Cambodia but also in the knowledge that a draw might not seriously hurt their chances either.
Just as Cambodia are desperate for a victory to advance their cause the Timorese are equally determined to stay upright. This tricky situation might either bring out the best or the worst in either of them.
On the beneficial side, Cambodia had a break of three days after their opening game while East Timor have had only one day of rest after playing two matches. But as head coach Antonio Carlos Vieira said, this is not a factor neither he nor his players are worried about.
It is apparent that coach Lee will have to come up with a few tactical readjustments to deal with the components of the Cambodian team that crumbled against Laos, a porous backline prominent among those failings.
Once considered pushovers in the region, East Timor has steadily grown in strength over the years. The team was bolstered after the national federation decided in 2011 to select their foreign-based players playing in Brazil, Portugal, Australia and other countries.
The process of fortification has led to East Timor’s improved showing in the region as reflected in their 5-1 swamping of Cambodia in the previous edition of this event in 2012, during which the side also scored a notable win over Laos.
Striker Murilo de Almeida, who bagged a hat-trick against Brunei on Sunday, could well be the danger man the Cambodian back line will have to watch out for. From the Kingdom’s perspective, it is not just how vigorously defenders do their job, it is also how effective the midfield link with the front line will be.
The question is, will the likes of Chan Vathanaka and Khoun Laboravy rise to this demanding occasion and keep Cambodia in the qualification hunt they have succeeded in only once before in nearly 10 years of competition history.