SEA Games Stars Return to Take on Afghanistan

Cambodia will make 11 changes to its team for Tuesday’s football World Cup qualifier against Afghanistan but remains uncertain about the fitness of Prak Mony Udom, whose inclusion would help revive the national side after last week’s 4-0 loss to Singapore.

With the under-23 squad returning Friday from a mixed SEA Games campaign, the Football Federation of Cambodia wasted no time drafting in the young stars that scored all eight goals at the tournament, according to FFC spokesman May Tola.

Injured footballer Prak Mony Udom sits out of the national team's practice Monday night at Olympic Stadium. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Injured footballer Prak Mony Udom sits out of the national team’s practice Monday night at Olympic Stadium. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

He hinted that those who played in the historic win over Macau in the March qualifier would receive preference during Tuesday’s match.

“All these players have played together before,” he said of Tuesday’s squad, which he would not reveal, “including against Macau in the first round [of World Cup qualifiers] and most of them are players from the SEA Games.”

“Now is the time to focus solely on the World Cup, that is why the coach has attempted to select the best combinations,” Mr. Tola added.

At a twilight training session Monday, Mr. Udom, who scored two of Cambodia’s eight goals in the SEA Games, nursed a shin injury as Keo Sokpheng and Chan Vathanaka, who scored three goals each at the games, went through their paces.

“We have developed a good combination,” Mr. Udom said of the trio as his teammates drove practice shots past goalkeepers. “We each understand how the other moves.”

The nephew of former national team player and manager Prak Sovannara, Mr. Udom said a lack of cohesion had defined the national side’s effort in the 4-0 thrashing by Singapore on Thursday.

“The game against Afghanistan will be different because our young players have all developed their understandings of each other at the SEA Games,” he said.

Afghanistan—ranked 151 in the world—was crushed 6-1 at home by Syria in its opening match of the second round of World Cup qualifiers Thursday. Syria is ranked 121 in the world. Cambodia sits at 178.

Mr. Udom, who will train at 100 percent today for the first time since he was struck in the shin by an opponent last Monday, said that he was hopeful of making the starting lineup. Team manager, Kazunori Ohara, offered no clues as to the makeup of the side.

“I cannot reveal; it is secret,” he said, declining to confirm the inclusion of any of the under-23 players, despite their prominence at training.

Members of the Cambodian national football team practice at Phnom Penh's Olympic Stadium on Monday night ahead of tonight's World Cup qualifier against Afghanistan. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Members of the Cambodian national football team practice at Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium on Monday night ahead of tonight’s World Cup qualifier against Afghanistan. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

The Japanese manager, however, did say that the under-23 players had slotted seamlessly back into squad, and would pose no risk to unsettling the team.

“The young players add lots of energy to the team, they are excited after the SEA Games and that experience will improve them. However, the only concern is that they have played four games in one week,” he said.

“Everyone accepts that this game is a difficult mission, but I feel a good atmosphere in the team.”

As the training session wound down last night and the players headed for the showers, Mr. Udom, Mr. Sokpheng and Mr. Vathanaka—who also scored two goals in Cambodia’s 4-1 win over two legs against Macau—remained on the pitch posing for photos with teenage fans.

As he watched the commotion from a distance, Kouch Sokumpheak, the 28-year-old captain of the national team, welcomed the possible inclusion of some young blood for Tuesday’s game at Olympic Stadium, which is likely to again be packed with more than 40,000 fans.

“They are young, fast and control the ball well,” he said. “They can combine with the national team to change the result.”

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