Cambodia has made a dismal start to the AFF Suzuki Cup 2018 suffering two defeats from as many matches. With three teams who have amassed six points each above them, it looks as if their hopes of making the semifinals is as good as over. But is it fair to put all that blame on their star man Chan Vathanaka?
Cambodia came into the tournament with hopes soaring. With a very high-profile name like Japan legend Keisuke Honda acting as their manager, the Angkor Warriors were expected to at least put up a decent fight against their group stage opponents even though a place in the knockout stages seemed a long shot.
However, Kouprey Blue went down to the ‘Tigers’ of Malaysia at Phnom Penh on the opening day by a 1-0 margin — a pretty respectable scoreline against one of the favourites at this edition! While three points were never expected from the Malaysia match, that wasn’t the case when they faced 2016 semifinalists Myanmar in their second game.
With Melbourne Victory star Honda making it all the way from Australia to be on the Cambodia touchline, excitement had gripped the country. And it all began really well for Cambodia at the Mandalarthiri Stadium as Chan Vathanaka (who else!) opened the scoring for the away side in the 23rd minute.
But then it was downhill for the 24-year-old and his team. Vathanaka was shockingly withdrawn at half time by Honda and Myanmar went on to score four past them to condemn them to a second straight defeat, this time the margin being 4-1 and the loss causing an uproar!
A major share of the criticism for Cambodia’s poor showing at the latest AFF Suzuki Cup has been directed at Vathanaka, but is the slamming of the striker warranted? Here, FOX Sports Asia argues why CV11’s display isn’t the only thing that has been hurting the Cambodia national team.
3. Vathanaka’s stats don’t lie!
In the 135 minutes of football he has played in the AFF Suzuki Cup 2018, Vathanaka has recorded Cambodia’s only goal of the tournament so far — that 23rd-minute tap in against Myanmar. He’s also registered three of the eight shots Cambodia have managed to hit on target this tournament despite only playing 1.5 matches so far.
Switching his role to that of a second striker in the game against Myanmar, Vathanaka looked bright in the first half and made 23 touches on the ball across the field in the 45 minutes at times dropping deeper than usual to have more influence on the game and create opportunities for his teammates.
But surprisingly, Cambodia manager Honda seemed not impressed and subbed the youngster off at half time! This seemed to have prompted a disheartened CV11 to take to social media to post that he was “not qualified enough to be called up to the national team squad.”
2. Last-minute tactical shuffles by Honda and Dalmas
It looks like head coach Honda and his deputy Felix Dalmas are yet to zero in on what they think are the best combination and formation for Cambodia. And they have experimented with the shape and personnel in the first two games — not exactly an ideal thing to do at a big tournament like the AFF Suzuki Cup.
In their opening match with Argentine coach Dalmas in charge, Cambodia lined up in a 4-1-4-1 formation with Vathanaka leading the line. Captain Kouch Sokumpheak took up the defensive duties behind the other two midfielders while Reung Bunheing and Keo Sokpheng started out as the wide attackers.
Cambodia were more than a match for Malaysia in the fixture, but they decided to go against the tried-and-tested formula as Honda rolled out a 4-3-2-1 against Myanmar. Vathanaka was forced to drop down and support Bunheing who was made the main man up front as the lineup was shuffled left, right and centre.
The team went on to lose 4-1 and it looks as if all the reshuffling has not helped them in the competition.
1. Poor performances from his teammates
2′ Chance for #Cambodia!
— FOX Sports LIVE! (@FSAsiaLive) November 8, 2018
And if you thought Vathanaka has been the worst player on the pitch for Cambodia over the last week or so, you are far away from the truth. It should be noted that CV11’s teammates, many of whom have been not at their bests, haven’t helped the Kouprey Kampuchea’s cause at the AFF Suzuki Cup either.
His main strike partner Reung Bunheing has been wasteful in front of goal and has only one shot on target despite playing 180 minutes. If the attacker had been more clinical, chances were that the Angkor Warriors could have come away from the Malaysia fixture with a win!
In the midfield too, captain Sokumpheak hasn’t been able to assert his authority while another star name in their team sheet, Theirry Chantha Bin, has also not been his usual self only completing 61% of the passes he attempted inside the opponent’s half over the two games!
But the real concern for Cambodia is their backline. AFF Suzuki Cup debutante goalkeeper Soksela Keo made two costly mistakes in the Myanmar loss, while the likes of Hong Pheng, Visal Soeuy and Sareth Krya have looked out of sorts in the defence creating a major headache for the Honda and co as they head into the final two rounds of the group stage.
As the AFF Suzuki Cup 2018 enters its business end, the weight of expectation of the Cambodian fans will be on the shoulders of Chan Vathanaka. But to single-handedly guide the Angkor Warriors to a knockout berth will be too much to ask from the 24-year-old. For that, he would really love to get some help from his teammates who haven’t stepped up so far in this tournament.