Anticipation was building around Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium on Monday ahead of the biggest football match in the country’s recent history, with the national side set to face off against Japan this evening.
The 60,000 capacity stadium will be full to the brim just after 7 p.m. to see Cambodia take on some of the biggest names in Asian football, including Keisuke Honda of AC Milan and Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund.
The game comes off the back of six losses in six games, including a 3-0 loss to Japan in September. Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Cambodia coach Lee Tae-hoon was skeptical that tonight’s game would follow a different narrative, blaming the domestic league’s packed schedule for taking its toll on his team.
“I think we will have more difficulties than Japan in this game because the Japan players are very higher than ours,” the coach said.
“I want to play more aggressive but I worry about players’ condition now because they didn’t have a rest when they start the Cambodian League until now, so players’ condition is very bad now, so I think it’s difficult to try and attack many times,” he said.
French-Cambodian Thierry Chantha Bin, who will be wearing the captain’s armband tonight, said a win was improbable, but hoped his team could grab a draw.
“They have some of the most famous players with big careers, but we don’t have to worry about it. I think on the field we are the same, so we have to work very hard to try and improve ourselves and to not be scared,” Mr. Chantha Bin said.
“I think it will be very difficult because we know Japan is much better than us. They are more experienced. Let’s say the win will be very difficult, but I believe in the draw if we work very hard and we don’t have many mistakes,” he added.
Security has been ramped up around Olympic Stadium in recent days as the Japanese stars prepared for the match, with locals barred from entering the stadium to exercise as they usually do.
Lun Soklin, a security guard at the stadium, said he had been informed by his superiors to tighten security due to the high profile of the Japanese team.
“My superiors told me to be more vigilant because the Japanese players are more important and expensive,” Mr. Soklin said.
Peering over the gates of the Olympic Stadium parking lot, Kong Thea, 20, a university student from Ratanakkiri province, spoke of his excitement of seeing his favorite player, Shinji Kagawa.
“I hoped to get in but I can’t because there’s a lot of police…. I like Honda and Kagawa—he’s my favorite. I like his dribbling,” he said.
“I think maybe it will be 2-1 Japan.”