Cambodia began its World Cup qualification campaign in triumphant fashion Thursday with an emphatic 3-0 victory over Macau in front of a packed Old Stadium in Phnom Penh.
About 8,000 local fans, who continued to trickle in after kickoff, creating a sea of blue around the pitch, were left frustrated after Cambodia squandered chances in a goalless first half but were whipped into a frenzy after the hour mark as the home side took the lead.
The 63rd minute breakthrough came when Chan Vathanaka capitalized on some slack Macau defending, coolly rounding the keeper and slipping the ball into the net. The opener was followed by a period of intense pressure as the Cambodian front-line continued to exploit the visitors’ lack of organization at the back.
The game was effectively put to bed in the 79th minute as Vathanaka watched his left-footed free-kick ricochet off the post into the net. Khuon Laboravy grabbed an invaluable third in stoppage time that could prove vital over the two legs.
Cambodia’s star striker spoke of his joy of scoring a brace in the country’s biggest match in recent memory and the buzz of playing in front of such a big crowd.
“This is the first time I’ve ever scored in a World Cup qualifier. This goal was to satisfy Cambodian fans,” Mr. Vathanaka said.
“I’ve never seen as many fans as this. Their presence made me want to score goals,” he added.
Oung Kanyanith, assistant coach, praised his team’s performance but urged players to not become complacent, underlining the difference in conditions the players will face in Tuesday’s return leg in Macau.
“They had good spirit and concentration. Even if we could not score five or six goals, three goals is a pleasing result,” he said.
“What we are worried about is the weather in Macau as it is quite cold. It could be below 18 degrees and this could cause difficulty to the players’ movement,” he added.
Kuong Kakda, one of the thousands of fans who were pulling jubilant waves as the victory became certain, spoke of his excitement over the possibility Cambodia—currently 184 in the latest FIFA World Rankings—could be put on the footballing map.
“If the national team gets through this qualifying stage, the world will start to know more about Cambodia,” he said.
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