Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Make or break

This Cambodia starting XI will change for the game against Malaysia
This afternoon is a make or break match for Cambodia's SEA Games semi-finals hopes. It's simple, we need to beat Malaysia at the Chao Anouvong Stadium at 5.45pm to have a chance of going into the final match, with Vietnam on Friday, with qualification still a possibility. So you get the picture, here's my preview article that I submitted to the Phnom Penh Post yesterday.

Cambodia’s U23 team face Malaysia today at the Chao Anouvong Stadium in Vientiane, knowing that nothing less than a positive result will be enough if they want to keep alive their hopes of grabbing one of the two semi-final qualifying places from Group A. Malaysia thumped Timor Leste 11-0 in the opening game of the football competition but went down 3-1 to Vietnam on Sunday to leave their own hopes of qualification in the balance. Malaysia’s current SEA Games experience got off to a stuttering start when their scheduled flight from Kuala Lumpur was suspended for a day as they’d failed to get international flight clearance, though they quickly put that behind them with that record-breaking victory against Timor Leste. Eight different players scored against Timor with Ahmad Shakir Ali netting a hat-trick. In the reversal against Vietnam, they had influential midfielder Razak Zaquan sent off in the final minute and he will miss the game against Cambodia, as will their keeper who is also suspended for 1 match following their post-match antics.

Malaysia ’s team coach K Rajagopal has warned his players not to take Cambodia for granted as they seek their first SEA Games gold medal in 20 years - their last success was when the Games were held on home territory in Kuala Lumpur in 1989. “We must not underestimate any team, including Cambodia . We can’t afford another slip-up in our bid to qualify for the semi-finals,” said the coach. "I haven't seen anything of Cambodia apart from their two games here. We recorded a larger win than I expected against Timor, but that has gone now."

His opposing coach, Cambodia ’s Scott O’Donell has identified Malaysia from the outset as tough opponents, bracketing them with Vietnam and Thailand, as the three key teams in the group. "Malaysia are a good team and they've had some impressive results leading up to the SEA Games and they've been together for a long time. It's going to be a tough game, but I've got confidence in my boys." After watching their defeat against Vietnam, O'Donell said, "Malaysia will be disappointed. They were pretty much outplayed by Vietnam and once Vietnam got that third goal they sat back. The boy who got sent off is a good player, he's scored a few goals. He'll be a loss for them. They play the ball around well, are technically good players and its going to be tough for us. If we go out there and do our best, anything can happen." O'Donell played a season in Malaysia in 1994 with Tampines Rovers and lived for a while in Kuala Lumpur before taking on his second stint with Cambodia earlier this year.

With such a strong group, the likelihood is that qualification will go down to the wire, maybe even goal difference, so Malaysia ’s trouncing of Timor could still hold them in good stead. On Friday, the last day of qualification, Cambodia will face Vietnam at Chao Anouvong Stadium while Malaysia wrap up their campaign against the favourites and eight-time winners Thailand at the National Stadium. Both games will start at 3pm. Both Cambodian and Malaysian football fans will be unable to see Tuesday's game live in their respective countries after the Laotian organizers demanded such a large television rights fee that neither country’s main broadcasters took up the option of taking live television coverage. Malaysia haven’t exactly been starved of SEA Games success despite those 20 lean years without a gold medal. They won silver in 2001 when the competition was switched to an U23 format and the bronze medal in 2003 and 2005. The last meeting between the two teams in SEA Games competition was in Manila in 2005 with Malaysia recording a 5-0 success. In their six previous meetings in the SEA games, Malaysia have won on each occasion.

Cambodia's influential skipper Sun Sovannarith is suspended for the game after picking up two yellow cards in successive games, so coach Scott O'Donell will be forced to alter his starting eleven. Possible replacements for Sovannarith are Touch Pancharong, Lay Raksmey or Chan Dara. My tip for the starting XI is: Seiha, Rady, Pancharong, Tiny, Rithy, Narith, Sothearath, Borey, Sokngorn, Chhaya, Sokumpheak. But there could be more suprises in store. Watch this space.

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