Judgment day has arrived for Cambodia coach Hok Sochetra, with his team set to take on East Timor this afternoon in the opening match of 2012 AFF Suzuki Cup qualifiers, which kicks off at the Thuwunna Stadium in Yangon at 3:30pm Cambodian time.
The 39-year-old former national team hitman is not only the youngest coach out of five competing countries but the only one who shares nationality with his team members.
Hosts Myanmar are led by 57-year-old former South Korean striker Park Sung-hwa, Laos have Japanese coach Kokichi Kimura, 51, Brunei work under 53-year-old former South Korean defender Kwon Oh-son, and East Timor are headed by Brazil’s Emerson Alcantara, 42.
Hok Sochetra, who scored 42 goals in his international career between 1995 and 2003, told the Post he was ready to write history in Cambodian football as a coach. However, he admitted that their opponents in Myanmar had been constantly improving.
A two-week training camp in Kuala Lumpur helped the players develop in areas such as technicality, power and discipline. “Most players understand well how to play, especially when controlling the ball. They can try hard in attacking but when losing the ball, they come back to shore up the defence,” said the coach.
This year welcomes the ninth edition of the biennial regional tournament, with Cambodia featuring in all since its inception in 1996. Among the four competitions which have included the qualifying round, Cambodia have made their way to the finals just once, in 2008, when the team was under Prak Sovannara, currently head coach at Metfone C-League club Naga Corp.
If past encounters are to be considered, Cambodia should feel confident in playing East Timor and Brunei but expect a tough game against Laos and a significant task when facing Myanmar on their home turf.
Cambodia have never lost to the region’s newest team East Timor, notching up two victories and one draw in Cup meetings including a 4-2 win in Vientiane during the 2010 qualifiers during which striker Khim Borey netted a hat-trick
However in recent years, East Timor have turned heads with promising results emanating from their youth team. Their senior squad boasts some foreign-based players such as Emerson Cesario, who plays for Thai Premier League club Chiangrai United, defender Wellington Bocha and midfielder Marquinho, who are at regional teams in Brazil, and striker Murilo de Almeida, who plies his trade with Indonesian side Persuraja Banda Aceh.
On Sunday, Cambodia will face neighbouring nemeses Laos, who recently beat the Philippines 2-1 in a friendly and lost 2-1 to the Thai national team.
In nine FIFA-recognised clashes, Cambodia hold a slight edge with four wins to Laos’ three, along with two draws.
Their 2010 Cup qualifier ended in a goalless stalemate in Vientiane, while Cambodia will be looking to avenge their dramatic elimination at the hands of Laos in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers last year.
Cambodia registered a 4-2 victory at home in June only for Laos to triumph 6-2 in the second leg.
Cambodia will also be wary of the Laotians’ exemplary record in Cup qualifiers, which has seen them advance on all four occasions.
In a major boost for home fans, all of Cambodia’s matches in Myanmar are to be screened by local entertainment channel MyTV. Presenter Thong Proseur confirmed to the Post on Wednesday that they would continue broadcasting games if Cambodia were to progress to the finals round, which will be hosted by Thailand and Malaysia from November 24 to December 22.
All games played at Thuwunna Stadium
Friday October 5
Cambodia v East Timor – 3:30pm
Myanmar v Brunei – 6:30pm
Sunday October 7
East Timor v Myanmar – 3:30pm
Laos v Cambodia – 6:30pm
To contact the reporter on this story: Ung Chamroeun at [email protected]