Head coach Lee Tae Hoon faces the toughest assignment of his nearly six-year stint with the national team as he leads Cambodia’s bid for qualification to the prestigious AFF Suzuki Cup with a tricky opener against archrivals Laos at Olympic Stadium at 6:30pm on Saturday evening.
The four-team qualifiers to fill just one slot in November’s regional showpiece kicks off with Brunei taking on Timor Leste at 3:30pm before the home side get down to business in search of the precious ticket that has eluded the Kingdom since 2008.
That lone success in the biennial tournament came at home under the stewardship of respected Cambodian coach Prak Sovanara and the South Korean Lee Tae Hoon is bidding hard to be the first foreigner to emulate that glory.
“The burden of expectation is very high especially when it comes to the Suzuki Cup qualification. I am optimistic about our chances this year since we have gone through some amazing experiences and produced some good results,” said Lee Tae Hoon, who is now the second longest serving foreign coach, having touched six years in two spells split by an almost one-year break.
The tactician’s main concern is how well the players have soaked up the experiences of crossing paths with some of the best teams in the region through the World Cup and Asian Cup qualifying cycles.
“Unless our players play to their full potential and work hard as a team it is difficult to get the results we want. The stakes are high here. We can not afford a slip up against any of the three teams,” Lee Tae Hoon said.
Cambodia take the pitch on the back of a confidence-boosting 4-0 win last Sunday over Sri Lanka in an international friendly after a decidedly stronger Hong Kong had put them to sword twice.
Laos were hit by some injury concerns in their latest 1-1 draw against Maldives in the Play off round of the Asian Cup UAE 2019 qualifiers, though the islanders won 5-1 on aggregate.
Laos have beaten Cambodia on some big occasions, notably the 2014 World Cup qualifiers after an astonishing turnaround at home for an 8-6 aggregate win, and enjoy a better record, having played in every championship since 1996.
Both Cambodia and Laos acknowledge the importance of winning the opener without losing sight of the fact that there are two other matches next week, with the Angkor Warriors tackling Brunei at 6:30pm on Tuesday and Timor-Leste at the same time next Friday.