Chea Makara will celebrate his 18th birthday Friday. He doesn’t need a present. He already gave one to his country.
Inserted as a substitute in the 70th minute, he scored eight minutes later as Cambodia came from behind to earn a 1-1 draw with the Maldives Sunday in the World Cup football qualifying tournament.
Before the tournament began, Cambodia coach Joachim Fickert predicted Chea Makara would soon step into the leadership role held by Hok Sochreta, the star striker who left the team six weeks ago and just returned to training in the past 10 days.
Fickert chose to start Hok Sochreta, hoping it would give his team a psychological lift. But when he tired in the second half, Chea Makara took the field and scored the tying goal from about 12 meters out, lifting the ball waist-high into the right edge of the net after a nifty pass by Pok Chanthan.
“I am extremely excited I scored,” Chea Makara said. “It was a great match, and I learned how to improve my technical skills by watching the older players. They played in the beginning, and we younger players were able to come in and score at the end.”
Islam Naseen, another second-half substitute, scored for the Maldives in the 67th minute. A Cambodian offsides trap maneuver failed, and Islam Naseen found himself alone 10 meters in front of the net and drove it in.
Maldives, which defeated Cambodia 6-0 two weeks ago on its home field, was lucky to get the draw. A header by Cambodia’s Soeur Chanveasna in the 85th minute grazed the top bar.
Cambodia’s Chan Arunreath was the best player on the field in the first half, making several powerful runs. Cambodia held a 5-0 edge in corner kicks, although Maldives had the best chance in the 30th minute when Ali Shiham’s back heel pass found Shah Ismail alone in front of the net. But Cambodia goalie Suon Dara smothered the point-blank shot.
Maldives held a 5-0 edge in corner kicks in the second half, but Chea Makara and Pok Chanthan gave the home team fresh legs in a match played in 30-degree Celsius heat.
An exuberant crowd of nearly 4,000 enjoyed the comeback. Both teams play again next Sunday. Cambodia travels to Indonesia while Maldives goes to China.