Thursday, March 14, 2013

Slim chances

Let's be very clear about this, Cambodia's chances of qualifying for the eight-team AFC Challenge Cup final stages next year are about as slim as they can get. Buoyed by their recent win over the Malaysian U-23s, they take on Boeung Ket, the MCL leaders in a friendly tomorrow at the Olympic Stadium, before they head to Manila in the Philippines for their three much tougher Challenge Cup qualifying matches between 22-26 March. Their chances are pretty much non-existent because they face Turkmenistan in their first match on 22 March and the former Soviet Union republic are one of the strongest teams in the region. In fact they finished runners-up in the last two competitions, beaten on both occasions by North Korea. Also in group E and meeting Cambodia on 24 March, are hosts the Philippines, the third placed team in the Challenge Cup in 2012 and like Turkmenistan, some forty or so places above Cambodia in the FIFA world rankings. Cambodia may look to their 0-0 draw with the Philippines at the Olympic Stadium last September for some comfort, but the Azkals take their cup football very seriously, so we can safely ignore that result. The third opponent for Cambodia will be Brunei Darussalam, on 26 March, a place below the Khmers in the FIFA rankings, at 186th, but they are on the up and beat Cambodia in their last meeting, a 3-2 Suzuki Cup win last October. That final game will likely decide the group wooden spoonists, so there is pride at stake, if results go with form. Only the group winners from the five groups, and the two best runners-up will go onto join the hosts, Maldives in the finals. Initially, Cambodia withdrew from the competition last October, citing financial and competitive concerns - they may live to regret changing their minds.

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