Cambodia blew a 15th minute lead to go down to two late second half goals from Laos in a 2-1 Pool B defeat on Saturday evening.
The Young Warriors now face the daunting prospect of a must-win match against Singapore on Monday in the three-team group to keep alive their chances of making the semifinals of the Hassanal Bolkiah U22 tournament for ASEAN nations in Brunei.
Singapore had opened up a much easier path to the next stage for Cambodia after their 5-1 win over Laos, and all coach Prak Sovannara’s side needed were three points from their game at the HB National Stadium to ensure a place in the last four no matter the outcome of the next game.
The initial bustle from the Warriors’ attack indicated the side was determined to taste victory.
The experienced Sos Suhana, one of three overage players permitted, turned in an inviting cross after the ball had bounced favourably from a block by the Lao keeper.
Buoyed by that 15th minute goal, Cambodia created some prominent openings only to be thwarted by vigilant Laos defending.
Powerful left foot
Cambodia held on to their slim advantage until well past the hour mark, but a brilliant long-range left-foot shot from Phithack Kongmathilath, who scored their consolation against Singapore, got Laos back in the game.
The equaliser instantly altered the dynamic on the pitch, and despite Cambodia breaking with counterattacks, Laos now had the momentum.
A free kick 15 yards from the edge of the box three minutes into injury time was another opportunity for Kongmathilath to unleash the power of his left foot, with the ball going over the wall and into the top corner.
The victory means Laos are now well placed to clinch a semifinal spot unless Cambodia can pull off a win against Singapore.
“As a coach, the outcome of a match is my responsibility. The players worked hard and were eager to win, but then came the huge mistake of conceding an injury time goal,” Sovannara said after the game.
“We have to fight all over again when we face a much stronger Singapore.
“I am not saying this as an excuse, but we didn’t have long enough to train together and to prepare the players for such hard battles. We ought to have played at least one strong friendly. That I think is a lesson for the future.”
The U22 tournament has meant the Metfone C-League schedule has been pushed back two weeks, with this weekend’s matches now set to be played on May 12-13.