The Cambodian national U23 football team are almost certain to continue their record of never making the knockout stage of the SEA Games after suffering losses in their first two Group A matches in Jakarta this week.
In this evening’s fixture at the Gelora Bung Karno stadium, the side coached by South Korean Lee Tae-Hoon faces the near impossible task of overcoming 13-times winners Thailand. They will then come up against reigning champions Malaysia in their remaining group tie on Sunday.
A defensive crisis still lingers having let in six goals against hosts Indonesia during their opening game and, despite a wonder goal from Chhin Chhoeun against Singapore on Wednesday, the Cambodians will be struggling to keep up spirits.
The winger’s strike, a cross-come-shot from the right which miraculously looped over the keeper’s head to nestle in the top far corner of the net, was wiped out by two uncontested headers in the second half after Singapore had applied relentless pressure.
Lee Tae-Hoon’s backline have been woeful in the air, with five of the eight goals conceded so far in the tournament coming from headers.
Pen Phath, the former Cambodian international well-known during the 1960s and 70s and currently coaching Cambodian footballers in France, told the Post during his hometown visit yesterday that in the modern world of football, the Kingdom is not far off the level of neighbouring nations, particularly in terms of fitness, but the big problem is a lack of commitment.
“If all players look at the flag [on their shirts] and remember they are playing for their national team, the nervous feelings should disperse and they will perform better in contests,” he said, adding that the individualistic attitude of players can destroy the whole game.
The 63-year-old coach, who played for Rapracha FC in Thailand’s top flight from 1972-1977 and was named one of the best 11 players in Asia in 1972, noted that Cambodia could match the best in the region if they played with real conviction and a clear strategy, and didn’t admit defeat too early.
The Thai U23 squad, meanwhile, will try to salvage their campaign after a disappointing 2-1 defeat to Malaysia. In their last seven head-to-head meetings at the SEA Games, Thailand have dominated Cambodia with six wins, including their biggest winning margin of 9-0 in 1995. A 1-1 draw in 1971 was the only slight blemish on the Thai’s record. During the previous SEA Games in Laos two years ago, Thailand won 4-0.
Cambodia have also never beaten Malaysia, who interestingly mirrored Thailand in inflicting a 9-0 demolition in 1995 and a 4-0 rout in 2009.
Malaysia and Singapore currently share the lead of Group A with four points a piece, while Cambodia foot the table. Myanmar and 2009 runners-up Vietnam top Group B on seven points, with games playing over the weekend at the Lebak Bulus stadium.
TRANSLATED BY IN SOPHENG
Friday November 11
- Singapore v Indonesia – 2pm
- Philippines v Laos – 4pm
- Thailand v Cambodia – 5pm
- Saturday November 12
- Brunei v Vietnam – 4pm
Sunday November 13
- Malaysia v Cambodia – 4pm
- Philippines v Myanmar – 4pm
- Indonesia v Thailand – 7pm
- East Timor v Laos – 7pm