With the countdown for the start of the Asian Confederation’s second round matches for the 2018 World Cup qualifiers fast approaching, regional neighbours Cambodia and Laos get down to an international friendly today at the Olympic Stadium ahead of their campaigns.
Cambodia have been drawn along side Japan, Syria, Afghanistan and Singapore in Group E, while Laos are clustered with South Korea, Kuwait, Lebanon and Myanmar in Group G.
Cambodian head coach Kazunori Ohara and his Laos counterpart Steve Darby struck the same wavelength at a joint news conference yesterday in attaching huge importance to this warmup game as a vital part of the buildup for the big tests ahead.
Both Cambodia and Laos face a similar predicament in having to prepare two separate national teams – the senior side for the Cup qualifiers beginning in less than 10 days and the under-23 team in search of glory at the soon-to-start SEA Games in Singapore.
“The biggest problem for Laos, like Cambodia, is that there are some key players in both campaigns and we have to do our best with what we have at least until we get past the SEA Games,’’ said Steve Darby, who is well known in Asia as a pundit for the ESPN Star Sports, whose most recent stint was with Mumbai FC as assistant coach in the Indian Super League.
“We are pleased to be here. We recently played Afghanistan, who are 45 places above us in the rankings, and lost 2-0, and we need tough games like this. You can practise set pieces for hours and train hard but there is nothing like match simulations,’’ the Laos head coach said.
“This is our last chance to get the best 11 to play, but I would like my players to be injury free – we cannot afford to lose key players since we have such a small pool to pick from,” Darby added.
When asked about his team’s chances in the second round, Darby handled the question with typical humour: “I don’t want to go to South Korea, nor am I learning Russian!”
But on serious note he said that his realistic view is that it is going to be a very tough proposition.
In the limited time that he has had, Ohara is optimistic of a good showing by his team. Without venturing into predictions about the June 11 clash against Singapore, the Japanese coach said he has been satisfied with the preparations, but there were crucial gaps that needed to be filled.
Both the coaches will no doubt make use of the six substitutions that are allowed in an international friendly to give both regular and fringe players some playing time.
The Cambodian coach for one says his choice of field formations or game plans will be determined solely by how well the players perform.
Meanwhile, Cambodian national team captain Kouch Sokhumpeak promised a hundred per cent commitment from the team.
The game to be played under lights will kick off at 6:30pm.
The Cambodian side will travel to Bangkok tomorrow to play their final international friendly before the clash against Myanmar on June 5 in Singapore.