Cambodia, fueled on by a capacity crowd of some 50,000 fans, enhanced their chances of securing a place in the final round of the AFF Suzuki Cup when they defeated arch rivals Laos 2-1 at the National Olympic Stadium tonight.
Cambodia and Brunei, who had scored a 2-1 come-from-behind victory against Timor Leste in an earlier tie this evening, top the standings with three points each and are now the front-runners to book the sole spot in the final round next month.
“The first game of a tournament is always difficult,” said Cambodian head coach Lee Tae Hoon.
“Some players played well some played did not. But anyway we got the three points.”
For Cambodia, the victory tonight was sweet revenge for the 3-2 loss they suffered at the hands of Laos in the previous AFF Qualifiers two years ago. That defeat in Vientiane contributed to their failure to make the final round. “
In tonight’s match, Cambodia took advantage of counter-attacks to surprise their opponents and ease away with a crucial three points.
With a capacity crowd screaming their hearts out and with a precious place in the AFF Suzuki Cup Finals at stake, it was no surprise that the hosts went flat out in search of an early goal. Scoring first would take the pressure off Cambodia, who missed the cut two years ago when they finished third behind Myanmar and Laos.
Playing at home has clearly fired up the home side who are gunning to go the distance this time around. But their biggest hurdle here is certainly the tie against arch enemies Laos. At the least, they knew they needed a draw.
The game was seven minutes old when the first whiff at a goal came their way, unfortunately, Keo Sokpheng’s weak attempt was tipped away by Soukthavy Soundala. Soon Laos took over attacking duties with Cambodia absorbing the pressure.
Strikers, Soukphone Vongchiengkham, among the smallest built but very quick on the attack, along with Sitthideth Khanthavong had some close calls but failed to nail their shots. They would rue their missed chances as Cambodia would charge ahead in the dying minutes of the first half when Prak Mony Udom hammered his penalty low to the right which sent the fans into a massive roar.
Laos continued to hound their opponents and their efforts eventually paid off in the XXXth minutes when Moukda Souksavanh drilled in the equaliser to the dismay of the home fans. Spurred on by the goals, the Laos players kept on pushing up in search of more.
On the hour mark, Maitee’s freekick hit the wall and sailed out. In the ensuing corner kick, Maitee saw his attempt curl in but keeper Um Serei Rath managed to tip it over the bar.
With time quickly running out, Cambodia, again off a swift counter-attack, broke free and squeezed in a second goal through substitute Kanya Khounvongsa.
With the resounding support of the home fans, the Cambodians did well to defend their lead and walk away winners. More importantly, the victory enhanced their hopes of claiming a place in the prestigious Final round.
Cambodia have two more matches against Brunei and Timor Leste over the next four days. Only the team which finishes at the top of the standings in the qualifying round here will advance to the final round where they will be placed in Group B along with Myanmar, Malaysia and Vietnam.
“Tonight’s match was the crucial game in the qualifiers,” said Laos head coach Vuensavanh Sivisay. “The loss of the two strikers was costly for us. We failed to play our usual game. We were lacking confidence.”