Cambodia's starting line-up. Back Row LtoR: Sothearath, Rithy, Yaty, Raksmey, Sovan, Laboravy. Front row: Dalin, Chhoeurn, Phearith, Soksana, Pheng (pic Tep Phany)We are a matter of days away from the SEA Games, expectations are mounting but tonight's performance by the Cambodia U-23s, who will be representing us at the SEA Games, was anything but encouraging. If they put on a repeat showing at the Games against the four higher-ranked teams they face in Group A, god help them. On tour Nepal won tonight's game 1-0, with a goal five minutes before the final whistle. To be honest, they were the better team, busy and buzzy and giving Sou Yaty a lot of practice in the Cambodian goal, but it looked to be heading for a goalless stalemate until Santhosh Shahukhala popped up, unmarked, at a corner and headed home powerfully past Yaty amidst a static defence. It came from a quickly-taken corner kick by Rabin Shrestha and found Cambodia disorganized and looking at each other for someone to blame. They were all guilty. Nepal had deserved it without really showing why they are ranked 32 places higher than the home team in the FIFA rankings, though Cambodia fielded their u-23s and Nepal's team was packed with similar-aged players. With former England and Spurs hard-man Graham Roberts at their helm and directing operations from the touchline, Nepal began the game brightly, breaking quickly and keeping Cambodia on the back foot for the first half-hour. Aside from Sok Pheng's weak header early on, Nepal pulled all the strings and gave Sou Yaty the opportunity to show why he's rated as the Kingdom's number one stopper. Two point blank saves from Yaty, on 26 minutes and another five minutes later, were top drawer. A quick free-kick bamboozled the home defence and Yaty needed to be quick off his line to deny Jumanu Rai close in. Next up, Bharat Khawas must've thought his far post, kneeling down header was the game's opening goal, only for Yaty to pull off another wonder stop. And that was essentially the last action of the half. Cambodia's coach Lee Tae-Hoon inexplicably replaced Sok Pheng on 32 minutes, though anyone of his team at that stage, could've been removed for their lack of purpose, guile, endeavour and enterprise. The whole team looked tired, listless and lethargic, which is a real concern with a major competition just around the corner.
Four minutes after the break, Yaty fumbled a low driven free-kick by skipper Sagar Thapa but was spared his blushes as Jumanu Rai blazed the loose ball over the top. Ten minutes in and substitute Shahukhala nipped in front of Sok Rithy to whip his shot against the upright, before the home team managed their first shot of the match, on the hour, with Chhun Sothearath firing over the bar from 25 yards out. Shahukhala wriggled free but fired wide when well placed and Phuong Soksana got a touch to a Khuon Laboravy pass but failed to beat Nepal keeper Kiran Limbu at the near post. A spell of Cambodian pressure around the 77 minute mark was the home team's best moments of the game. Sos Souhana blasted miles over from the edge of the box, Sok Sovan headed a corner towards goal at the far post but the danger was hacked clear and then Sothearath tried a cheeky chip from 20 yards that Limbu touched over as he frantically backpedaled. That was as good as it got for the hosts. As the game headed towards a goalless conclusion, Shahukhala had other ideas and was in the perfect place to head the game's winner with five minutes to go, to give Nepal their first win in their 4-game tour. It was more than most of the Cambodian fans could take as they headed for the exits. A poor showing, with everyone, except Sou Yaty and defenders Sok Sovan and Sok Rithy who emerged with their reputations intact, playing under-par, it was hard to see how coach Lee Tae-Hoon could put a positive spin on this result. Without the goalscoring threat of someone like the unselected Khim Borey or Keo Sokngorn, who remained on the bench throughout the game, Cambodia rely too much on their skipper Laboravy and this was one of his quietest and least-inspiring matches. The writing is on the wall for Lee Tae-Hoon with matches against far better opposition than Nepal waiting in the wings.
Cambodia's line-up: Yaty, Raksmey, Dalin, Sovan, Rithy, Phearith (Souhana 57), Sothearath, Chhoeurn, Laboravy, Soksana (PM Udom 80), Pheng (Saray 32). Subs not used: Vichet, Sorphea, Rady, Daravorn, Pancharong, CM Seang, Dina, Veasna, Sokngorn. Bookings: Phearith, Sothearath.