Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Under pressure

Tomorrow afternoon is the first test for Cambodia's national team coach Lee Tae-Hoon (pictured) after the disappointing series of results that saw Cambodia fail to progress to the group stages of the AFF Suzuki Cup last October. Since then, the South Korean coach has had a look at every player with a shout of joining the national squad during a series of friendlies and a disappointing 4-1 loss to touring Ulsan University. He's finally settled on a 23-man squad though this has been bolstered by the addition of 4 players plying their trade in Thailand this season at virtually the last minute. Cambodia meet Macau at 3pm tomorrow and again a week later, in Macau. The importance of these two fixtures for Cambodia's national team this year and beyond cannot be overstated. They are must win matches. Added to that there are World Cup qualifying matches coming up in the middle of the year, which will determine the future picture of the country's international football programme. With that in mind, the coach has been bemoaning the lack of firepower amongst his strikers to the local Khmer press in the last few days that won't exactly fill his forwards with confidence. Nevertheless, we are playing Macau, regarded as one of the region's whipping boys, as much as most other countries regard Cambodia, so it's effectively a game of the also-rans, though I would be shocked if Macau get anything other than a pounding at the Olympic stadium tomorrow. It might be a little different in Macau next Wednesday in the 2nd leg, but I think Cambodia will have built up a sizeable lead by then and should progress to the group stage. In terms of ranking, Cambodia stand at 165th in the FIFA world list, whilst Macau lie in 193rd place. Cambodia beat Macau 2-1 in their last meeting in April 2009. If they are ahead after the return leg next Wednesday (16 Feb), Cambodia will enter the AFC Challenge Cup group stage alongside Tajikistan, Maldives and Kyrgyzstan in Group C, to be played in March 2011. If not, well we'll cross that chasm if it happens.

The 4 players who've joined the squad and interrupted their pre-season training with their Thai teams are Khim Borey, Keo Sokngorn, Chan Rithy and Srey Veasna. I would expect the first two players to start the game with the other two watching from the bench. The full squad is as follows:
Ouk Mic (Preah Khan Reach), Peng Bunchhay (Phnom Penh Crown):
Pheak Rady (National Defence), Lay Raksmey (Preah Khan Reach), Tieng Tiny (Phnom Penh Crown), Touch Pancharong (Police Commissary), San Narith (Phnom Penh Crown), Soy Piseth (Police Commissary), Thong Udom (National Defence);
Keo Sokngorn (Samuth Sakhon), Srey Veasna (Loei), Chhin Chhoeurn (National Defence), Chan Rithy (Surin), Chhun Sothearath (BBU), Phuong Soksana (National Defence), Prak Mony Udom (Preah Khan Reach), Sun Sopanha (Phnom Penh Crown), Suon Veasna (Preah Khan Reach);
Khim Borey (Sisaket), Kouch Sokumpheak (Phnom Penh Crown), Sam El Nasa (Preah Khan Reach), Sok Pheng (Phnom Penh Crown), Khuon Laboravy (Preah Khan Reach).

One coach who won't be involved in the bout of AFC Challenge Cup games this week is Simon McMenemy, the man credited with the Philippines' historic semi-final finish in the AFF Suzuki Cup that made the national team an overnight sensation, but who was replaced a month ago when they realised that he needed a UEFA coaching license to be able to take part in the AFC qualifiers. His contract wasn't renewed though he found out about it first via an online networking site. His replacement is German Michael Weiss, formerly in charge of Rwanda.

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