Friday, December 4, 2009

Preview of today's game

I know its after the event, but my preview article appeared in the Phnom Penh Post today and here it is.

Nov Soseila ruled out of U23s Group A match opener today
Cambodia’s inspirational young winger has been left off the team sheet due to injury for today’s opening SEA Games match against Thailand.

Cambodia's U23 team take on regional archrivals Thailand in their opening Group A match today at 3pm at the Chao Anouvong Stadium in Vientiane, although they will be without their talented winger Nov Soseila. A kick on his right ankle in their final practice match in Vietnam a week ago is still causing him discomfort, and national team coach Scott O’Donell doesn’t want to take any unnecessary risks of aggravating the injury, saying: “Seila won’t start. We’ll keep treating him and see what happens.”

His omission is a blow to Cambodia’s attacking options, as Nov Soseila showed how dangerous he can be with his quick feet and ability to take players on, causing mayhem in the final third of the pitch, at the recent BIDC Cup tournament in Phnom Penh. To overcome the loss, it is likely that Chhun Sothearath will get a starting berth in central midfield, with Khim Borey switching to the right. O’Donell has other options at his disposal and will also consider employing wide players Prak Monyoudom or Khuonla Boravy against Thailand, and for their second match Sunday against Timor Leste.

“I’ve been very happy with the training sessions,” O’Donell said. “We’ve been working hard for seven weeks, every day. We’ve been focusing on all aspects of our game, our formation and shape, getting the players tuned into what we want in the game situation. Against [Vietnamese club team] Can Tho we looked sloppy, and we got caught in possession and stopped moving the ball around quickly. So we’ve been working on that in training, getting the players to understand what’s required. We can’t afford to get caught in possession in our defensive third because so many goals get scored from that. I’ve drummed it into the boys that Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia will close us down, so we’ve got to keep the ball moving and doing the simple things well,” the coach said.

O’Donell is upbeat in his assessment of his team. “I’ve got faith in them and I’m sure they will go out there and do the job. If we are well organised and we stay disciplined and, if all the boys play to their capabilities, we can cause an upset. But the players have got to believe it too. We’re not here to make up the numbers. I don’t want us to be the whipping boys any more. I want us to make that next step up. I know the rest of the teams have written us off. If you talk to the rest of the coaches, its all Vietnam and Thailand. That’s good, that’s the way I like it. The boys have to believe in themselves and have faith in each other, because they are all good players. If we give 100 percent, even when things go wrong, we can cause Thailand some trouble.”

The Cambodian players and coaching team watched both of the opening Group A matches at the new national stadium, 17km outside of Vientiane, Wednesday. Malaysia efficiently disposed of East Timor 11-0, while Thailand and Vietnam played out a hard-fought 1-1 draw under floodlights. “It was a good opportunity for us to see the key players, what they are like, particularly for set pieces, because we will allocate players and give them responsibilities,” O’Donell said. “How they play, how they do things, it’s important, but we’ve got to focus on our game. Thailand looked good, particularly in the first half. They played as we expected them to play. They looked solid. They dropped off a bit in the second half, and Vietnam came back quite strongly, as they moved the ball around quickly and caused Thailand some problems. Both teams played good football. I thought it was an entertaining game for the neutral. However I hope the standard of refereeing improves, as it was shocking for both teams.

“Thailand’s strength is their movement off the ball,” added the coach. "Their passing and their movement is something that our boys aren’t used to. It’s something we’ve got to cope with. That’s why it’s even more important that our organisation and our discipline is right, that we keep our shape, and stay nice and compact. Reduce the space they’ve got to play in. If we do that then we’ll make it easier for ourselves, but if we allow ourselves to get stretched and get caught in possession, they’ll cause us problems. Vietnam conceded their goal from a corner that didn’t need to be given away and they got punished for it,” O’Donell said. “We’ve done that a few times, so we’ve got to reduce the number of corners and unnecessary free-kicks we give away, and when we do, we’ve got to make sure we’re disciplined in our marking. If the players work as a unit, we’ll make it hard for them.”

Thailand’s coach is Englishman Steve Darby, a long-time adversary of O’Donell’s. Both were club coaches in Singapore at the same time and have known each other for many years. Darby is now assistant to the national Thailand coach Bryan Robson, who took over after Peter Reid returned to England. He has already predicted that his team will meet Vietnam in the final of the SEA Games competition. Thailand have won the gold medal on the last eight occasions of this biennial tournament, and expectations are high that they’ll repeat their previous successes in Vientiane. Anything less will be regarded as a failure.

In matches between the two countries in SEA Games competition, Thailand have won five and drawn once, with their last meeting in 2007 seeing the Thais trounce Cambodia 8-0. In Teerasil Dangda and Kirati Keawsombut, they have two strikers who are big, strong and mobile and will cause any defence problems, while captain Kiatprawut Saiwaeo is rock solid in the heart of the Thai back four, having previously had trials at English side Manchester City.

On Sunday, Cambodia face the SEA Games minnows East Timor, who were on the wrong end of a record-breaking 11-0 defeat by Malaysia Wednesday. The game will take place at the new national stadium under floodlights, with a 5:45pm kick-off time. “They [Timor Leste] didn’t have much organisation,” O’Donell said. “I thought they were pretty poor to be honest. They were completely outclassed, men against boys. Some of them just arrived this morning, and you have to question their preparation, but I’m sure they’ll get better as the tournament progresses.” This is a must win game for Cambodia if they are to harbour thoughts of progressing to the semi finals as one of the two qualifying teams from Group A. The match will be broadcast live on Thai Channel NBT.
Probable Cambodia line-up:
Samreth Seiha, Pheak Rady, Sun Sovannarith (capt), Tieng Tiny, Sok Rithy, San Narith, Chhun Sothearath, Khim Borey, Keo Sokngorn, Chan Chhaya, Kuoch Sokumpheak.

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