Cambodia go down but not out
To be honest, we didn't do ourselves justice. Though the Thai team were bigger and stronger, we matched them for the first half, well 45 minutes of it anyway. Then in added on time we switched off, handed them a couple of goals on a plate and the game was effectively over. There was no coming back from a 3-nil half-time scoreline especially against the Thais, who are the strongest of the regional nations and know how to shut-up shop. Their finishing was clinical whilst ours was wayward. They had a couple more chances than Cambodia did but the teams were pretty evenly matched and to lose 4-0 is galling, it looks one-sided but it was anything but. Of course I would say that, but its a fact. We played some neat interchanges in midfield, our defence snuffed out much of the Thai threat but when the Thais had chances they took them. Kuoch Sokumpheak, normally so reliable in front of goal, failed to convert a couple of guilt-edged first half opportunities and that was the difference. So much rests on so little. In internationals, you simply don't get a hatful of chances, so its important to snap them up when they come along. The Thais did. Then when we thought we'd got to half-time with just a goal behind, we were caught by a sucker-punch with two goals in as many minutes, as the players stood around waiting for the interval whistle. Their lack of international know-how cost Cambodia dearly. You can't switch off at all, let alone for a couple of minutes.
Instead of getting that all-important early goal after the break, it was Thailand who got it and the game was definitely over. Cambodia huffed and puffed but played to Thailand's strengths with high balls into the area, which they dealt with easily. In skipper Kiatprawut Sawaeo they have probably the best defender in the region. As Cambodian heads dropped, Sun Sovannarith was guilty of a reckless challenge and conceded a penalty, and a booking (San Narith and Keo Sokngorn were also booked in the game). Samreth Seiha, not at fault for any of the goals, pulled off a fantastic double save to keep the Thais at bay, though he couldn't stop replacement striker Sompong Soleb, who netted a hat-trick, with Kirati Keawsombut scoring the other goal.
The game ended in farce when Keawsombut elbowed Tieng Tiny and all hell let loose as all 22 players piled in. The Thai striker ended up on a stretcher and with a yellow card but others were lucky to escape red cards. The referee blew for time and Cambodia were treated to a verbal ticking off from coach Scott O'Donell for their last minute transgressions. In his words; "I said to the boys its not acceptable. Whatever happened, I don't care. Accusations of elbowing one of our boys and everyone ran in - I hate that stuff, it's all bullshit and I've told them I won't accept it again."
As for the rest of the game, the coach couldn't hide his disappointment, especially conceding two goals at the end of the 1st half. "That was the end of the game after that. We'd done so well, 45 minutes and 1-nil down, it was excellent, the boys did really well, we were disciplined but then we conceded two soft goals, we maybe switched off but the last four minutes weren't good enough. To be fair we made it easy for them to score, it wasn't their great play, it was us. Poor defending and we were careless with our possession. We allowed them to get crosses in, no challenge on the crosses and when that happens against teams like Thailand we'll get punished and that's the lessons we've got to learn. It was always going to be uphill after going in 3-nil down,"
"The boys all worked hard and tried their best. Sokumpheak's chances were probably better than their chances but they took theirs and we didn't take ours. We've got to be smarter. That's what happens when you play against good teams like Thailand, you make mistakes and you get punished," stated Scott immediately after the game. Thailand's coach Steve Darby admitted, "we did our job, it wasn't great but it was enough. Cambodia were well organized, they worked hard and didn't make it easy for us. They will be difficult to break down for any team in this group." But after a 4-0 defeat those words won't cut much ice with the dejected Cambodian players who then watched most of the Vietnam v Timor Leste game which ended 4-nil to Vietnam, who fielded a mostly second-string line-up. However, Timor showed they are better than the 11-0 defeat to Malaysia in the 1st game suggested and will be a test for Cambodia on Sunday afterall. It's a must win game for Cambodia if they are to remain in the running to qualify from their group.
Cambodia U23 line-up: Seiha, Rady, Sovannarith (capt), Tiny, Rithy, Narith (57m PM Udom), Sothearath, Borey (83m Kumpheak), Sokngorn, Chhaya (58m Boravy), Sokumpheak.