An excellent performance from Cambodia saw the Angkor Warriors put up a stiff fight before going down 3-2 in a five-goal thriller to an India side ranked 41 places above them in an international friendly on Wednesday evening.
A packed Olympic Stadium was thoroughly entertained as both sides got the tough workout they were looking for ahead of next week’s 2019 AFC Asian Cup group matches.
It was a tale of two halves as Cambodia’s first-half dominance was usurped by India’s resurgence in the second via two substitutions that both produced goals.
Cambodia’s newly appointed coach Leonardo Vitorino, despite the scoreline, could draw some comfort from his first touchline appearance after watching his players battle hard all the way.
Undoubtedly disappointed after such a tight loss, the 44-year-old Brazilian could at least count on a ton of positives ahead of Tuesday’s away game against Jordan in Amman, while India travel to Myanmar.
Vitorino said after the match: “Firstly, I want to apologise to all Cambodian people and fans for [the] result. I know everyone wanted to win as much as I did but this is football.
“Although we lost our way a bit in the second half, we had a lot of possession and created many chances, especially in the first half, but we missed them.
“This is my first match as Cambodia coach, and a friendly, and I can promise that our team will develop and do better in the future.”
Taking to the pitch after a gap of nearly seven months, India’s start was anything but bright as Cambodia did well to seize upon apparent initial rust with a series of promising moves.
The highly anticipated return of Chan Vathanaka and Chantha Bin Thierry from their overseas engagements conjured much excitement as both made it into the starting line-up, and within minutes they threatened the Indian defence. But Vathanaka’s pass was driven over the bar by Thierry.
This was the first of many incisive Cambodian moves to follow in the first 30 minutes of the game. The speedy Vathanaka failed to beat Indian goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandu from close range and was frustrated in a similar fashion minutes later.
India survived two more narrow scares, with Rous Samouen and Souey Visal getting close.
Much against the run of play, however, India scored after Cambodia’s goalkeeping skipper Oum Sereyrath failed to secure the ball from a corner leaving India striker Sunil Chethri to tap in.
Yet within moments there was a shock awaiting India at the other end as Prak Mony Odoum expertly squared the ball off the line and the unattended Khuon Laboravy finished with a first-time volley.
But soon after the restart the complexion of the game changed dramatically as substitutes Jeje Lalpekhlua and Sandesh Jhingan scored a goal each in a four-minute frenzy to put India 3-1 ahead as Cambodia looked somewhat frail and bereft of ideas.
It was once again Vathanaka who lifted Cambodian spirits both on the pitch and in the stands as he dodged two Indian defenders, beat a third and left the goalkeeper flat-footed with a firm left foot strike from the edge of the box.
The goal ignited Cambodian hopes of at least a deserved draw. A Vathanaka attempt as the whistle approached had the fans on their feet, before a powerful Tith Dina free-kick that seemed destined for the back of the net rose inches over the bar to seal India’s first away friendly victory in 12 years.