Malaysia head coach Tan Cheng Hoe kept his pre-match promise of a positive result after his side edged hosts Cambodia 1-0 in their Group A opener of the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup at Olympic Stadium on Thursday evening.
With the home side holding out several prominent threats of a goal without quite delivering on them and backed by a vociferous and loyal crowd, it required the visitors to be at their fighting best at both ends to pick up three crucial points.
With overwhelming market fancies Vietnam brushing Laos aside 3-0, Malaysia will be more than pleased to be the group’s joint leaders, clearly piling the pressure both on Cambodia and Myanmar, who meet at the Mandalarthiri Stadium in Mandalay on Tuesday.
On the same day, Malaysia will host Laos with an extra spring in their step.
In the end, Cambodia were left to rue missed chances, letting Malaysia celebrate their only success that came on the half-hour mark when build-up play from Mohamadou Suareh and Rasid saw Norshahrul Idlan head home a cross with goalkeeper Um Vichet isolated.
With Keisuke Honda’s absence from the dugout, head coach Felix Gonzalez was more than happy to see his players showing greater attacking verve and organisation early in the game.
It was indeed a stroke of misfortune that a move so well conceived by Chan Vathanaka and Sos Sohana was blown by Reung Bunheing.
While the home side were relieved to see Zaquan Adha miss a straight forward opportunity, Safawi Rasid hitting the woodwork was another lucky break for Cambodia before their goal eventually was breached.
As was to be expected Vathanaka was heavily marked, considerably limiting Cambodia’s options, and when Gonzalez pulled Chantha Bin Thierry off the bench and into the fray in an attempt to infuse greater intensity in the second half, it was the Malaysians who were getting more assertive by the minute.