A hot topic doing the rounds in international football has been the appointment, more than a week ago, of still-active player Keisuke Honda to guide the destiny of Cambodian football in his role as general manager-coach, adding excitement to the Kingdom’s friendly with the visiting Malaysians at Olympic Stadium, which kicks off today at 6.30pm.
The Japan star scored in the Russia 2018 World Cup in a 2-2 draw against Senegal to top the list for Asian scorers at the World Cup after netting for his nation to become the highest scoring Asian player in World Cup history with his fourth goal in the competition.
The midfielder will play for Melbourne Victory while he has pitched his future to developing Cambodian football.
“For his achievements and talent, he had so many options before him but to have chosen Cambodia to ensure a healthy growth of football here is really astonishing and we feel honoured to have him and our players are really fortunate to seek help from someone like him,” a spokesman for the Football Federation of Cambodia told The Post.
The best possible compliment for this change of dynamic in Cambodian football that Honda is widely expected to usher in came from none other than the Malaysian coach Tan Cheng Hoe, who said at a news conference at the Phnom Penh Hotel on Sunday morning that he could clearly see an inspired and motivated home team turn up for the fight.
“It has never been easy playing Cambodia. All these years we have met so many times. The side has got some good players and that spirit to fight and under Honda every player will be trying to catch his eye,” the Malaysian coach said.
It may be too soon to speculate the style, approach and tactics Honda could pursue with the team but according to the Malaysian coach one thing would be certain and that is the Japanese legend will extract the best from his bunch.
With Malaysia’s focusing on the ongoing AFF Suzuki Cup, Tan said the team was looking for a confidence boost after going down 2-0 to Chinese Taipei on a heavy pitch.
“Some of the players may be a little down after that loss but I am confident they will put up a strong show against Cambodia. I am planning to give every player a chance to prove his quality and worth. So there could be several changes” he indicated.
While the coach is looking to reshuffle the side, he may bring in teenager Akhyar Rashid into the starting line up and another first 11 prospect is Kogileswaran.
For his part, Honda was brief and direct in his address. His over arching message was to stay calm and not try to go deep into the style, the changes and formations since it would be too early to talk about them.
“I have discussed with the Federation as to how best to grow Cambodian football in the future and that will be our main thrust. I have seen good potential. There are players with talent, experience and promise among younger players. So we need to build the team step by step.”
Honda said he was confident his players would show the kind of fighting spirit he expects from them but it wouldn’t be easy to beat a tough side like this Malaysian team.