More than 40,000 Cambodian football fans tasted a harsh dose of reality at Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium on Thursday as their team was comfortably beaten 4-0 by Singapore in the first game of the second round of qualifying matches for the 2018 World Cup.
Anticipation grew throughout the day in the capital as roads surrounding the stadium were gridlocked with motorbikes and fans flying flags with hopes of a victorious start to the campaign.
Despite a positive first five minutes, those hopes quickly dissipated as the Cambodian side was outplayed by its opponents in every area of the pitch.
Singapore opened its account in the ninth minute as Khairul Amri glided easily through the Cambodian defense and slotted away a tidy finish to make it 1-0. Safuwan Baharudin doubled the lead with a strike at 21 minutes from the edge of the penalty box.
The game was all but put to bed in the 35th minute as Baharudin exploited some poor marking to head in a free kick.
Cambodia’s back four looked vulnerable throughout and, were it not for some heroic goalkeeping from Sou Yaty, the damage could have been far worse at the break.
Despite the disappointing scoreline, the Cambodian fans were vocal throughout, performing mass waves while chants of “Kampuchea” echoed around the stadium.
The enthusiasm began to drain out of fans, however, as Fazrul Shahul put Singapore up by four 10 minutes after halftime. Much of the crowd had vacated their seats when Khim Borey squandered a chance for a consolation goal in stoppage time.
Cambodia’s captain, Kouch Sokumpheak, 28, struck an apologetic tone after the final whistle.
“I would like to say sorry to all the fans who came out to support the national team but what we have shown is that we will try our best and won’t stop fighting,” said the striker.
However, Phann Taravith, a 16-year-old student from Phnom Penh, voiced his disappointment at the one-sided affair as he watched the minutes tick down from his seat.
“I feel like we conceded goals too easily. It should have been only two or three…. We have seen the defenders are weak, and when their strikers came at them they cannot challenge,” said Mr. Taravith.
“Our technique is worse than Singapore’s. I think this performance shows Cambodia cannot get through to the next round,” he added.
Cambodia’s next World Cup qualifier is against Afghanistan at Olympic Stadium on Tuesday.