The Cambodian national football team will be heading to Laotian capital Vientiane today for the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup qualifiers beginning this Sunday in jubilant mood after winding up their preparatory phase with a 2-0 win over Taiwan in a warm-up game away at the Taipei Municipal Stadium on Wednesday evening.
The precociously talented Chan Vathanaka struck both the goals to trigger a positive vibe in the dressing room, breaking a dry run in the friendlies as coach Lee Tae Hoon leads the Kingdom’s campaign to earn one of the two qualifying spots for the tournament proper, to be jointly hosted by Singapore and Vietnam later this year.
Last November, Cambodia had lost international friendlies to Guam (2-0) and Singapore (1-0). In their latest tune up matches played away, Cambodia were beaten 4-1 by Malaysia on September 20 and lost a tight game 1-0 to Indonesia on September 25, with 30-year old Dutch born midfielder Raphael Maitimo producing the only goal of the game.
Cambodia last qualified for the Suzuki Cup in 2009 under the stewardship of Prak Sovannara, who interestingly made way after a short stint with the national team in 2013 for the return of South Korean Lee to serve a second term.
The national side will take on Laos on Sunday and will meet East Timor, Myanmar and Brunei in that order as five of the region’s lower-ranked teams fight for the right to join the top five in this two-tier biennial tournament.
There were strong indications earlier this year that the qualifying rounds could be scrapped to pave the way for the lower ranked teams to be directly involved in the competition. But the concept never came to pass.
The national coach struck a cautious note that the side should not be carried away with Wednesday’s result but use the momentum to build on the positives.
The coach, in his communications with the country’s football federation, is understood to have stressed the fact that the friendlies mainly focused on assessing the bench strength and working out various combinations to come up with the one that would be most effective in Laos.
The South Korean tactician is believed to have expressed confidence that the work ethic among the players had markedly improved and the team morale had never been higher.
“I cannot recall a time when our national team went out and played so many friendlies and I am given to understand that the preparations had gone on well and I feel we have better chance than ever to qualify,” Football Federation of Cambodia spokesman May Tola told the Post yesterday.
Grass to Astroturf
On the home front, the iconic Olympic Stadium grass will be ripped up to make way for an artificial playing surface. The work on the pitch is expected to begin soon and will be completed sometime in February next year.
Meanwhile, the FFC has announced that the first phase of the annual Samdech Hun Sen Cup competition will begin from January 8, while the Metfone Cambodian League will commence from March 25.
Playing at the New Laos National Stadium, Vientiane
Sunday October 12
Laos v Cambodia – 6:30pm
Thursday October 16
East Timor v Cambodia – 3:30pm
Saturday October 18
Cambodia v Myanmar – 3:30pm
Playing at the Chao Anouvong Stadium, Vientiane
Monday October 20
Cambodia v Brunei – 5pm