Cambodia head coach Leonardo Vittorino is striking an optimistic note that the inexperienced under-22 squad he will be taking to next week’s SEA Games football competition in Malaysia will be a great opportunity to build a strong base for the future.
“Lack of experience is there to see. We have a youthful side where most of the players are freshers. But it does not concern me. I take this as a challenge, an opportunity to create a healthy progression of good players for time to come,” the Brazilian told The Post in an exclusive chat during the team’s practice session at the RSN Stadium on Tuesday evening.
Vittorino replaced South Korean Lee Tae Hoon in early March this year. After a somewhat stressful time in the first few matches under his watch, he guided Cambodia to a win over Afghanistan at home in the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers in June, following that up with a goalless draw against China in the AFC U23 championship preliminaries.
Cambodia failed to make the grade despite beating the Philippines in the four-team group as China and Japan garnered the two qualifying spots.
But for the coach, the touchline view of the team’s performances against Afghanistan and China held out clear indication that this bunch of players could be melded and welded into a more cohesive unit.
“We had never beaten Afghanistan before. We did. We had never drawn with a team as strong as China before. We did.
“What does it tell you? We have potential. We need to work hard to harness it well,” Vittorino said.
The 44-year-old partially blames a weak succession policy for the unusual situation where the SEA Games-bound team has been left rather light on experience.
“We were unable to bring in players in the age brackets of 17 to 20 early enough to fill the places that had to be vacated by senior players crossing the age threshold. So we have been forced to bring in raw talent to replace the five or six players who have gone out,” he said.
“Does it concern me? Of course, any coach would like a balanced team. But given the situation, starting now we can address this problem and set it right in the next few years.’’
As for the Angkor Warriors’ Games prospects, the Brazilian said progressing to the knockout stage would be a tough ask as the group Cambodia are in holds three of the 2015 semifinalists, with Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia clustered together.
“My message to the players is simple: if you have big aspirations of playing at higher levels you have to deal with strong teams. I am keeping my expectations modest and prefer to go one game at a time,” he said.
While he admits his attacking options are somewhat limited, he is insistent that players like Noun Borey, Sok Samnang, In Sodavid and Brak Thiva can be effective.
Midfield is where the coach feels most comfortable. With the set-piece expertise of players like Prak Mony Odom and Chan Vathanaka missing, he expects Chreng Polroth and In Sodavid to fill in.
The Cambodia squad will reach Malaysia at least four days ahead of their opening Group B match against the Philippines at the MP Selayang Stadium on August 15.
Cambodia are due to play Vietnam on August 17, Thailand on August 20, Timor Leste on August 22 and Indonesia on August 24.