Friday, January 4, 2013

Much ado about nothing

Line-up: Back LtoR: Piseth, Sovannrithy, Yaty, Rithy, Thierry, Narith. Front: Vathanaka, Chanraksmey, Suhana, Veasna, Raksmey - click to enlarge
Prak Sovannara's first game back in charge of the Cambodian national team isn't one that will live long in the memory. The 1-0 defeat to Ulsan, a University team who make an annual trip over here from South Korea, at Olympic Stadium this afternoon wasn't unexpected, as Cambodia haven't been able to beat the student tourists in their half a dozen previous matches either. As always, expectations were high from the home fans, with a number of new faces in the coach's squad determined to show their worth to coach and spectators alike, with selection for the AFC Challenge Cup squad as the ultimate goal. Today and a second game on Sunday (3.30pm at Olympic) will give Sovannara some food for thought, though the coach's desire not to lose was evident from the start of this afternoon's match. With a solo striker in the shape of debutant Bin Thierry ploughing a lone furrow up front, it wasn't exactly the all-out attacking line-up or tactical formation that the fans would've appreciated. Instead Cambodia got men behind the ball and brought every player back for corners, which was overly negative for this football fan. It wasn't as if Ulsan were anything special. They were not, though they were physically stronger and posed a threat in the air, where Cambodia are not well endowed. Indeed, the Cambodian keeper Sou Yaty made a scrambling save low down at the start of the 2nd period and that was pretty much the sum total of his afternoon between the sticks. Oh, and picking the ball out of the net when Ulsan struck their 68th minute winner. A simple ball into the box was missed by the head of Om Thavrak and Kwon Tae Cheol lashed it in from twelve yards out.

As an offensive threat, there was more to note from Cambodia. However the game started badly, with just ten seconds on the clock, the home team lost full-back Sun Sovannrithy in an incident few saw. On sixteen minutes, the lively Chan Vathanaka on the left flank struck a sweet first time volley which the Ulsan keeper did well to keep out. Cambodia's best chance arrived on 25 minutes when Vathanaka broke past two players into the box and set up Sok Chanraksmey at the far post for a guilt-edged opportunity which he duly fluffed and gave the keeper an easy save to make. After the break, Sovannara made another nine changes to his line-up and formation, which didn't help the flow of the game or the creativity of his team. It was Vathanaka again, who forced his way past two defenders and into the box, but his stinging left foot drive was turned aside by the Korean keeper just before the hour. The same player volleyed the ball in from ten yards out six minutes after Ulsan netted their goal, but he turned to see the flag raised and his joy short-lived. And that was that. Few chances, little to shout about for the expectant fans and another victory chalked up for the Koreans. Certainly the Cambodian supporters will be looking for a more positive, offensive-minded showing in Sunday's re-run. Phnom Penh Crown's Thierry and Sos Suhana started the game but like their teammates, showed only fleeting positives, with Thierry replaced at half-time and Suhana lasting an hour before replaced by Keo Sokngon. For the fans, Sokngon's non-matching colourful boots was the main talking point and that told a story in itself. Khim Borey came on with fifteen minutes to go but couldn't change the outcome from his midfield role. All in all, as I mentioned right at the start, a game to forget.
Cambodia line-up: Yaty (Bunchhay 83), Raksmey, Sovannrithy (Pancharong 5 (Vibol 83)), Piseth (Thavrak 46), Rithy, Narith capt (Phallin 57), Veasna (Sothearath 80), Suhana (Sokngon 60), Chanraksmey (Chhoeun 72), Vathanaka (Borey 75), Thierry (Soksana 46).
The Phnom Penh Crown trio who got game time against Ulsan. LtoR: Thierry, Suhana, Borey. Click to enlarge

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