Cambodia suffered yet another defeat in only their second qualifier, with a 1-0 loss to Afghanistan at the Olympic Stadium yesterday night.
With a freshly rejigged side, Keo Sopheng found a space in coach Kazunori Ohara’s starting eleven although fellow SEA Games U-23 teammate Chan Vathanaka had to settle for a spot on the substitutes bench.
Prodigious Svay Rieng FC forward Prak Mony Udom failed a late fitness test and missed out on the squad entirely. With the game underway and urged on from the cacophony of home support, Cambodia powered forward, keen not to repeat the mistakes of Thursdays loss to Singapore.
With the game just minutes old, Khuon Laboravy drew gasps from the capacity crowd as his header floated wide of Afghan keeper, Mohammed Fardin Kohistani’s goal.
Afghanistan’s Djelaludin Sharitya then replied by firing well over the bar from a free kick in seventh minute. Midfielder Mustafa Zazai came close just moments later with a shot across keeper Um Sereirath’s goal.
Angkor Warriors captain Kouch Sokumpheak, then missed a gilt-edged chance receiving the ball uncontested yards outside the box. The number 10 could only fire high and wide as the Afghan defence rapidly closed around him. A tremendous one-two between Sopheng and Sokumpheak at the half-hour mark should have put the hosts ahead after Sokumpheak was through on goal. However, he failed to test the opposition goalie firing the ball agonisingly wide once more.
The sides went into half-time tied and with little separating them. In the 58th minute, perhaps as a result of his SEA Games expenditure, the flagging Sopheng was replaced by Soun Veasna.
The visitors had the better of the chances early in the second half and should have been 2-goals up within the first fifteen minutes of the restart. Sereirath however was equal to them all managing to keep the Afghan attackers at bay.
Midway through the second, Chinn Choeun ran at the backtracking Afghan defence although his attempt at goal did not live up to it’s promise.
In the 69th minute and to roars of approval from the throngs in attendance, Vathanaka replaced Hoy Phallin in the hope of giving the home side attacking impetus. With eight minutes remaining on the clock Afghanistan’s Shayasteh drew a fine save from Sereirath once more, the keeper perhaps justifying his inclusion at the expense of Sou Yaty once more.
With five minutes on the clock remaining the Afghans attempted a last ditch attack, breaking free down the left. As the ball fizzed around the box, a cutback to Zazai was buried from 9 yards, beyond Sereirath to give the Afghans the lead and the win.
As the clock winded down the dejected fans could only cheer as the Afghan win became an inevitability. Elsewhere in group E, group favourites Japan got their qualification off to a stuttering start after being unable overcome Singapore at home, with the game ending 0-0.
Singapore had, last Thursday, thrashed Cambodia 4-0 in their opening qualifier. Japan, known affectionately as the Samurai Blue, are regarded as one of the best sides in Asia and are ranked 50th in the FIFA world rankings. As a result they are the bookies bet to top their group by the end of qualifying.
The Japanese are the Kingdom’s next opponents in competitive fixtures as they host Ohara’s men in early September, a game which Japan will expect to come away with the win. Although if Cambodia play with the heart they did yesterday, they will not make it easy for the Japanese opposition.