Cambodian footballers no pushovers
Cambodia show they are capable of throwing up some surprises in Group A
(Prak Mony Udom 30, Keo Sokpheng 41, Chan Vathanaka 81)
(Paolo Salenga 53)
When the draw was made for the football tournament at the 2015 South-east Asia (SEA) Games, many expected a three-way fight between hosts Singapore, Indonesia and Myanmar in Group A for the two semi-final berths.
Singapore got off to a winning start when they beat Philippines on Monday, before Myanmar issued a real statement of intent with a 4-2 triumph over the Indonesians the following day.
All this while, Cambodia were made to bide their time. But they finally took to the field at the Jalan Besar Stadium last night and showed they will be no pushovers after claiming a comfortable 3-1 win over the Philippines.
Sterner tests await the Angkor Warriors, starting with Saturday's clash with Indonesia.
But, for now, Cambodia coach Lee Tae Hoon is content with the way his charges opened their campaign.
"I'm satisfied with the result, although there were problems with this performance," he said.
"The display wasn't without mistakes, but I believe our players will gain confidence from this win.
"Our focus remains qualifying for the semi-finals and we will keep doing our best in every game in order to reach that target."
Although they ended up with only a two-goal triumph last night, it certainly looked as though a big win was on the cards given their dominance in the opening 45 minutes.
After spurning a couple of decent opportunities, the deadlock was finally broken on the half-hour mark when a loose ball fortuitously broke into the path of Cambodia skipper Prak Mony Udom, who made no mistake in lashing an unstoppable shot into the back of the net.
Three minutes before the break, the advantage was doubled when - despite his best efforts to keep out a shot - Philippine defender Ronnie Aguisanda could stop the ball only just before the goalline, leaving Keo Sokpheng with the easiest of finishes.
Nonetheless, the healthy lead did see Cambodia allow some complacency to creep into their game in the second half.
They allowed the Azkals to get back into the contest in the 53rd minute when Kennedy Uzoka was allowed to get past Ngoy Srin too easily and drill a cross into the six-yard box, where Paolo Salenga nipped in ahead of Um Sereyoth to stab the ball home.
To their credit, Lee's charges were stunned in action after that. They went on to seal the win nine minutes from time after Philippine centre back Julian Clarino completely fluffed an attempted clearance, paving the way for substitute Chan Vathanaka to finish past the onrushing Jun Badelic.
It was a surprise that Vathanaka had been absent from the starting line-up, given his status as the rising star of Cambodia football, although Lee reveals he is not yet at full fitness.
"There is a small problem with Vathanaka as his condition isn't at 100 per cent," the South Korean explained.
"He is gradually getting better and we will be looking to give him more minutes in the next game."
Meanwhile, Philippine boss Marlon Maro was determined to look on the bright side of things despite all but conceding defeat in their bid for a last-four berth.
"Our chances of making the semi-finals are now very slim," he conceded. "But we will continue to give it our best.
"We were better than Cambodia in the second half, but we were just unable to convert our chances.
"Otherwise, it could have been a different story."
TNP Man of the Match: Prak Mony Udom (Cambodia)