Cambodia’s national football team will step onto the turf at a packed Olympic Stadium on Thursday evening for one of the biggest matches in the country’s history: hosting Singapore in the second round of qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Around 6:30 p.m. at the aging stadium in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and Singapore will kickoff the first game of the group, which also features Japan, Syria and Afghanistan. The national team reached the second round after a convincing 4-1 victory over two legs against Macau.
May Tola, spokesman for the Football Federation of Cambodia (FFC), said the national side—which at 178 in FIFA world rankings is the outsider of the group—was being realistic about its limitations in the second round, but believe that Thursday’s game against Singapore, ranked 154, will be an evenly matched affair.
“If the Japanese came to play here and I said we could beat [them], I would be crazy. But with Singapore, we have an equal chance,” Mr. Tola said.
Cambodia, however, will be short of some of its best talent for the match, including Chan Vathanaka, 21—who scored a brace against Macau in Phnom Penh—due to their inclusion in the under-23 team, which is currently competing at the SEA Games in Singapore.
Coach Lee Tae-hoon, who oversaw Cambodia’s victory against Macau, is also with the under-23s, leaving FFC technical director, Kazunori Ohara, to take charge for Thursday’s game, as well as next week against Afghanistan.
Mr. Tola conceded that the overlap was unfortunate, but ultimately unavoidable.
“[For] tomorrow’s game, we want the best players on one team, but we have to have two teams: one for the Singapore SEA Games and one to play here,” he said.
National team player Say Piseth, 26, said he believed the overlapping competitions would negatively affect both teams. The defender, who is in the squad that will be playing Thursday, was unequivocal about which competition he perceived to be more important.
“This game is more important than the SEA Games because it is a World Cup qualifier,” he said.