The starting XI for Cambodia U-21s. Back Row LtoR: PM Udom, Soksana, Sorphea, Saray, Rithy, Chenla. Front Row: Khemarin, Veasna, Sothearath, Pancharong, Chhoeun
Tum Saray will be holding his head in his hands tonight, repeatedly asking the question why he didn't score against Malaysia in this afternoon's international friendly game at Olympic Stadium. He had the best two chances of an otherwise mediocre match but fluffed both of them, leaving the home fans in despair as Malaysia took the only real opportunity that came their way to record a 1-0 victory. It was effectively the Cambodian U-21s, with an eye on the upcoming tournament in Brunei, with a few overage players, against a Malaysian U-23 team, which was fresh from winning the prestigious SEA Games, a successful tour of Australia and who are just about to commence the new season in the Singapore League. It certainly wasn't the Malaysian's best team, due to injuries and left-at-home absentees, but on paper Malaysia are streets ahead of Cambodia at this age-level, so a 1-0 defeat is no disgrace in the circumstances. Malaysia are also warming up for three Olympic Games qualifying matches where they need to win all three to have any thoughts of making the trip to London. That was the background to the match, with Cambodia fielding a team shorn of any Phnom Penh Crown players after the league champions refused to release their players. They came to the match on the back of some practice games against local C-League teams and have two more friendlies against a Korean University team later in the month.
With coach Lee Tae-Hoon needing to pull rabbits out of the hat to satisfy the growing discontent at his abysmal record in charge of the team over the past fifteen months, the Cambodian line-up included three wingers and one of the oldest players in the country, Naga's Neang Chenla, at 32. Malaysia played keep ball from the off, but their defenders looked at sea on a couple of occasions as Phuong Soksana fired a shot across the face of goal and inches past the foot of the far post on 28 minutes. A minute later, Chenla was taken off. Though the visitors looked the more assured in possession, the best sight of goal fell to the home team just three minutes before the break. A poor back-header by Affize Faisal gifted Tum Saray a free run on goal but as he hesitated with the final execution, keeper Izham Tarmizi smothered the ball at his feet. With the crowd still groaning, Malaysia broke quickly and within 19 seconds had the ball in the net for the opening goal. Ferris Danial and Izuan Salahuddin played a neat one-two with each other and the latter fired an unstoppable half-volley past Sar Sophea from close range. The 2nd half was punctuated by numerous substitutions, eleven in total, which disrupted any free flowing football, but again, it was Cambodia who should've registered a goal but failed at the moment of truth. With 14 minutes of the game remaining, Cambodia broke quickly with Ung Dara setting Tum Saray free with a slide-rule pass through the middle. Saray rounded the keeper and rolled the ball towards goal only to see Nazirul Naim arrive from nowhere to hoof the ball clear of the goal-line. It simply wasn't Saray's day and he was replaced moments later. And that was effectively it. Malaysia coasted home to the 1-0 win, didn't look world-beaters by any stretch of the imagination, as their record would suggest, so Cambodia can take heart from that. More decisiveness in front of goal and the home team might've claimed a notable scalp. They didn't and it's more practice matches for the team ahead of the Brunei invitational tournament in late February.
Cambodia U-21 line-up: Sar Sophea, Touch Pancharong (Nen Sothearoth), Khek Khemarin, Neang Chenla (Moul Daravorn), Sok Rithy, Chhun Sothearath, Suon Veasna (Ung Dara), Prak M Udom (Teab Vathanak), Chhin Chhoeun (Sophal Udom), Phuong Soksana, Tum Saray (Nov Soseila). Subs not used: Sou Yaty, Um Vichet, Chhin M Seang, Plong Chanthou, Chan Vathanaka, Pov Phearith, Phang Dara, Say Piseth.