After three failed attempts since 2008, Cambodia stormed into next month’s AFF Suzuki Cup finals following their 3-2 win over Timor-Leste at the Olympic Stadium on Friday that saw them top the four-team qualifiers with an impressive nine points from three matches.
Having beaten Laos and Brunei earlier, Cambodia needed only a draw to take the lone qualifying berth, but precocious striker Chan Vathanaka spared the more than 50,000 fans any anxiety by producing a solo goal of great quality midway through the second half to help Cambodia break a 2-2 deadlock and polish off the campaign with their third straight win.
In a seven-goal thriller, a second-half hat-trick by Phatthana Syvilay saw Laos edge past Brunei 4-3 at the RSN Stadium to occupy second slot behind Cambodia. This is the first time Laos have missed the group stage since 1996.
The win saw South Korean Lee Tae Hoon become the first foreign coach to steer the Kingdom past the qualifying stage of the biennial ASEAN showpiece, with Prak Sovanara, now at Metfone C-League champions Boeung Ket Angkor, the last manager to do so back in 2008.
“Ever since I took over in 2010, Suzuki Cup qualification has always been at the top of my wish-list. We went close a couple of times, but I am indeed happy we finally made it,” the Warriors’ coach said after Friday’s win.
“The group stage is a big challenge for us as we will be competing with teams of much higher quality. I hope our recent experiences will help our players cope with this challenge,” Lee Tae Hoon said.
Cambodia will now join Myanmar, Malaysia and Vietnam in the four-team Group B. The Kingdom’s opening fixture against Malaysia is set for November 20 at the Youth Training Centre in Yangon, Myanmar. Group A is made up of hosts Philippines, Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia.
Cambodia got off to a flying start against Timor-Leste with Tit Dina unleashing a fierce right-foot shot into the top corner within seconds of the kick-off.The home side doubled the lead 15 minutes later when Chhin Chhoeun generously passed the ball for Chan Vathanaka to score when he himself was well placed inside the box.
Hard fighting Timor-Leste pulled a goal back from the penalty spot through captain Almeida Barbosa and 10 minutes before the break Nelson Sarmento Viegas struck the equaliser.
Cambodia buzzed the Timor-Leste backline on a few occasions before Vathanaka deftly slotted the ball in after winning a duel with defender Ferreira Alves.
“I am very satisfied with my players. It was a fantastic game, and they fought from the beginning until the end,” said Timor-Leste coach Fabio Da Silva.
“We knew Cambodia had an advantage playing at home and with their fans. We decided we would keep pressing on and not give in easily, and my players did just that.”