I really didn't want to hear this from the Maldives camp after they comprehensively dismissed the Cambodian national team in last night's AFC Challenge Cup tie, winning 4-0. The Maldives skipper, star player and hat-trick hero, Ali Ashfaq told the press after the game: "The coach doesn't know much about us. The coach asked before the game, how we wanted to play. We told the coach, we wanted to press and play a pressured game for the first 20 minutes and to score a goal during that period. The plan worked. Now the coach would know our level of football, so he could make a plan for the next games."
The new Maldives coach, Argentinian Diego Cruciani, a former coach of Bangladesh, who's monthly salary and other expenses are paid for by Kuwait, agreed. "You should not congratulate me. All the credit goes to the players. I just had three practice sessions with the players and I don't know them very well. So I asked them before the match, how they want to face the game. They said, coach we want to win the game. We want to play a pressing game in the first few minutes. I told them, yes let's do it! So all the credit goes to them."
Does his salary as the coach go to them to I wonder? Is this player power in action? Maybe Lee Tae-Hoon would do well to ask his players how they wanted to play in the next game against Tajikistan on Wednesday in the 2nd match of Group C. And then the South Korean FA, who pay Lee's salary, can pass that onto the players. They certainly couldn't do any worse. We have to ask the question how a country of 300,000 fishermen and hotel personnel can so comprehensively beat a Cambodian team (drawn from a population of 14 million) after just three training sessions with their new coach. Lee has been in charge of the national team since August and between the unsuccessful 3-game stint in the Suzuki Cup and qualification for the current competition, he's had almost unrestricted access to his national squad for that whole period, playing a plethora of friendly games, including a 4-1 spanking by a Korean university team, and training sessions. Yet despite all that we arrive in the Maldives without key players, left behind by the coach in a fit of pique, and get another walloping, this time meted out by a team below us in the FIFA rankings. I'm not surprised as we suffered an ignominious loss to one of the region's whipping-boys in Macau as well, only scraping through 5-4 on aggregate. All in all it doesn't add up to carrying great armfuls of optimism into Wednesday's game against the strongest team in Group C from the ex-Russian republic of Tajikistan. I fear the worst. I am equally concerned that we could find ourselves out in the international wilderness with World Cup qualifying matches coming up in the middle of the year, which if we carry on in the same vein, will most likely result in the same disappointment. Cambodia are ranked in 30th place amongst the Asian qualifiers and will know their World Cup opponents on 30 March.