Malaysia fight back to deny Keisuke Honda winning start with Cambodia

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

Malaysia played the role of party poopers to perfection on Monday as they came from behind to claim a 3-1 victory in Keisuke Honda’s first game in charge of Cambodia.

With legendary Japan attacker Honda taking his place in the Cambodia dugout for the first time since his appointment last month, there was plenty of excitement at the Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh and – understandably – it was the hosts who started the brighter of the two teams.

It took them just three minutes to fire away the first warning shot when Thierry Chantha Bin lined up a freekick down the right and swung an effort straight towards goal, only to see it crash off the bar with Khairul Fahmi beaten all ends up.

And, from a similar position in the 18th minute, Cambodia duly broke the deadlock.

This time, Chantha Bin opted to deliver the ball to the back post where it was nodded back by Keo Sokpheng to Soeuy Visal, who met the ball with a sumptuous first-time volley on his left foot that flew over Fahmi’s head and into the back of the net.

Buoyed at taking the lead, the Angkor Warriors continued to look the likelier side to strike again, while the visitors had a couple of threatening forays forward but failed to really threaten Sou Yaty in the opposition goal.

Cambodia came excruciatingly close to doubling their lead five minutes after the restart when Sokpheng did well to beat Mahalli Jasuli down the left before hanging up a ball at the far post but, with Fahmi completely taken out of the equation, Kouch Sokumpheak just could not keep his shot on target from a tight angle.

Seven minutes later, it was Reung Bunheing’s turn to come close after he caught Shahrul Saad in possession and got in behind the Malaysia defence, but Fahmi was equal to the task as he pushed the effort away to safety.

Then, a minute after the hour mark, Cambodia were made to pay for their wasteful ways in front of goal when the visitors drew level.

A powerful header by Shahrel Fikri Fauzi from a Syazwan Andik header forced Yaty into a good save but he could not prevent the ball from dropping back into the six-yard box, where Shahrul reacted quickest to bundle home from close range.

13 minutes later, Harimau Malaya took the lead through a fine break forward with Shahrel Fikri tearing down the right before floating an inch-perfect cross to pick out an unmarked Syazwan, who made no mistake in planting his header into the back of the net.

Cambodia continued to create opportunities but found Fahmi in inspired form, as the Melaka United goalkeeper staked his claim to be Malaysia’s first-choice goalkeeper at the upcoming AFF Suzuki Cup, producing a couple of fine saves to deny Sokpheng – first from a deft back-header and then from a swerving 20-yard freekick.

But any hopes of Cambodia forcing the draw late on were finally ended in the second minute of injury-time when the exciting Shahrel Fikri added a goal to his two assists in a fine 32-minute cameo, receiving a pass from Fazly Mazlan and gliding past Visal before squeezing his shot under Yaty.

CAMBODIA: Sou Yaty, Chhin Chhoeun (Nen Sothearoth 78’), Hong Pheng (In Sodavid 73’), Soeuy Visal, Cheng Meng (Sath Rosib 78’), Thierry Chantha Bin (Sor Piseth 73’), Kouch Sokumpheak, Sos Suhana (Tith Dina 63’), Sin Kakada (Brak Thiva 63’), Keo Sokpheng, Reung Bunheing.

MALAYSIA: Khairul Fahmi, Mahalli Jasuli (Amirul Azhan 58’), Shahrul Saad, Rawilson Betuil, Syazwan Andik, Nasir Basharudin (Azzizan Nordin 23’), Akram Mahinan, Syazwan Zainon (Syahmi Safari 73’), Nazmi Faiz (Shahrel Fikri Fauzi 58’), Akhyar Rashid (Fazly Mazlan 59’), Zaquan Adha (Nik Akif Syahiran 79’).