FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan continues to look ahead to AFF Suzuki Cup 2018 by focusing on Cambodia in our fourth team preview.
If there is one side that is garnering the most intrigue ahead of AFF Suzuki Cup 2018, that would have to be Cambodia.
With Japan legend Keisuke Honda installed at the helm but uncertain to be present, and question marks over the form and fitness over several big-name players, the Cambodians remain an unknown quantity.
At their best, they should be able to match it with some of the tournament’s stronger sides, but – should they fall short of expectations – it could prove to be a difficult tournament.
So, which Cambodia should be expected to turn up at this year’s Suzuki Cup?
November 8: Cambodia v Malaysia (Olympic Stadium, Phnom Penh)
November 12: Myanmar v Cambodia (Mandalarthiri Stadium, Mandalay)
November 20: Cambodia v Laos (Olympic Stadium, Phnom Penh)
November 24: Vietnam v Cambodia (Hang Day Stadium, Hanoi)
Cambodia have never reached the semi-finals in six previous appearance and have managed just two wins in 22 matches.
However, their displays in 2016 should give the fans plenty to be optimistic about, as they showed the gap between them and the top-tier teams is slowly but steadily diminishing.
They gave Malaysia a real scare and even led twice – courtesy of a Chan Vathanaka brace – before ultimately succumbing to a 3-2 defeat, and produced a decent fight in a 3-1 loss to Myanmar.
Even as they finished the campaign without a point in their final Group B match, it was only a Nub Tola own-goal that ultimately cost as they narrowly fell 2-1.
ONE GAME NOT TO MISS
Although there is only one non-Mekong nation in Group A, it is a shame that Cambodia will not be hosting two of the stronger sides in Vietnam and Myanmar.
Therefore, the best home match that will take place in Phnom Penh should come on Match Day 1 when the Cambodians entertain 2010 champions Malaysia.
The Cambodia fans never fail to turn up in support of their side and could provide quite an opening atmosphere at the 50,000-capacity Olympic Stadium to kick off the tournament.
Thierry Chantha Bin – Already an influential member of the squad ahead of this season, Chantha Bin has taken his football to the next level following a fine 2018 with Terengganu as they finished runners-up in the Malaysia Cup. The defensive playmaker is now someone that Cambodia can look towards to dictate the tempo of the game, while also providing a shield in front of defence.
Chan Vathanaka – For awhile now, Vathanaka has been the darling of Cambodia football but – following a couple of disappointing seasons in Japan and Malaysia – he needs to get his career back on track quickly. There is no better setting than at the Suzuki Cup, a tournament which he has lit up before with his skillful dribbling and clinical finishing.
Soeuy Visal – Regardless of who the Cambodia coaching staff decide on as their number one goalkeeper, it is not going to be the steadiest of options compared to the rest of the region. As such, the defence will have to be at their best to offer him as much protection as possible and, at the moment, Visal looks to be the most in-form of the Cambodian backline.
Could Cambodia cause a series of upsets and reach the semi-finals for the first time in their history? Probably not, even if Honda is doing his best to mastermind what would be a significant chapter in their history.
But stranger things have happened and apart from Vietnam, the rest of the Group B sides have not had the most convincing results recently.
On paper, Malaysia and Myanmar should still be slightly ahead of the Cambodians but if they can somehow pick up four points against them in their opening two matches – something not completely unimaginable – then their passionate fans could just start believing.
Photo credit: Football Federation Cambodia