The Cambodia starting XI: (Back row LtoR): Piseth, Raksmey, El Nasa, Laboravy, Sopanha, Mic (Front row) PM Udom, Tiny, Sothearath, Narith, SokumpheakA win is a win and Cambodia go into next week's away leg in China with a 3-1 advantage after overpowering the minnows from Macau in the 2nd half of this afternoon's AFC Challenge Cup qualifying encounter. In front of an expectant home crowd, the Cambodians started nervously and couldn't get the all-important first goal to settle their butterflies. Macau sat back and allowed Cambodia to play, and found the home side bereft of ideas on how to break down their defensive game plan. Both of the main strikers missed great opportunities in the first half. Kouch Sokumpheak blazed over the bar when well-placed on 18 minutes and then didn't get the connection he wanted when he poked the ball past the Macau keeper after 38 minutes. Sam El Nasa, more guile than speed these days, was guilty of wasting a guilt-edged chance on two minutes when he bent down low and headed over the bar from close in, and then sent a free header wide of the upright when it looked easier to score, with a couple of minutes to the break. The chubby Macau stopper Chon Kit Leong pulled off a great save to deny Khuon Laboravy in the 13th minute, when the winger got a great connecting header to Sokumpheak's fizzed cross, only to see the keeper deny him with a superb one-handed save. More huffing and puffing from Cambodia, who found it hard to get the ball down on a bobbly pitch, but they had keeper-captain Ouk Mic to thank on 27 minutes when Chi Che found room at a corner to get in a shot, which Mic did well to smother. All square at the interval.
Within 14 minutes of the 2nd half, the complexion of the game had changed dramatically, with Cambodia ahead 3-nil and Macau finally succumbing to the relentless Cambodian pressure. It began within three minutes of the restart when Sam El Nasa jumped with defender Pak Lao and appeared to get the final touch to Sun Sopanha's dangerous corner for the 1st goal. The relief so quickly after the break was there for all to see. Five minutes later, El Nasa had netted a 2nd goal and Cambodia were cruising. Chhun Sothearath and Kouch Sokumpheak combined to send the latter racing to the bye-line and his perfect cross onto the head of El Nasa was easy pickings for the veteran. A minute before the hour mark, Khuon Laboravy made up for a poor missed chance moments before, by racing onto a defence-splitting Sun Sopanha pass and firing past the keeper from 12 yards out. Cambodia had the cushion they'd been seeking all game and the frustration was effectively over. A rash of substitutes did nothing for the game as a spectacle but Macau posted notice when sub Ka Hang Leong weaved his way past three ineffectual tackles and stung Mic's fingers, before the same player got a steal on his marker to a Wai Tong Ho free-kick and headed the ball firmly past Ouk Mic and inside the post, eleven minutes from time. It was a poor goal to concede and one which the South Korean coach won't be happy with. In time added on, and with fresh legs in the line up, Sokngorn gave Sokumpheak room to drill the ball against the cross-bar from 15 yards out, which brought the game to a close and a 3-1 victory for Cambodia to take to the second leg, and favourites to progress to the group stage of the Challenge Cup competition. It was an easy win for the home country, who'll be cheesed that they didn't inflict a heavier defeat on the visitors, especially as Macau didn't really kick-off their interest in the game until they were 3-nil down and their only bright spark was Ka Hang Leong's direct play in the final twenty minute.
Cambodia's line-up: Mic, Raksmey, Narith, Tiny, Piseth, Sothearath, Sopanha, Laboravy (C Rithy 69), PM Udom (Sokngorn 61), El Nasa (Srey Veasna 77), Sokumpheak. Subs not used: Bunchhay, Pancharong, T Udom, Pheng. Bookings: Raksmey (52, trip).