The noise was deafening. More than 12,000 fans—about 4 percent of the entire population of the Maldives—were in the stands screaming for their team during its World Cup football qualifying match against Cambodia.
Cambodian striker Chan Arunreath couldn’t put the crowd at that April 1 match out of his mind. “We were frightened and excited by their fans,” he admitted. “I had three chances in which I was confident I could score a goal. But the fans cried so loud I lost my spirit. I blame myself. I was just so excited.”
Cambodia suffered a disappointing 6-0 loss that day. Cambodia dominated early in the match, earning five corner kicks in the first 10 minutes. “We were the better team for the first hour,” said Cambodia coach Joachim Fickert. “Even the Maldives coach said so.”
Maldives led 1-0 at the 70th minute, then exploded for five goals in the final 20 minutes. “We gave up two quasi-own goals, and our defensive organization fell apart,” Fickert said.
The same two teams meet Sunday at Old Stadium (3:30 pm, free admission, TVK will televise on a delayed basis Monday at 4:30 pm). Cambodia has not played since April 1. Maldives lost 5-0 at Indonesia last Sunday. Both teams are grouped with Indonesia and China in a six-match round. Each team plays the other three at home and away. Only the top team advances in the World Cup qualifying competition.
“Maldives played essentially the same style against Indonesia that they played against us,” Fickert said after watching a videotape of that contest. “They played a strong technical match and were careful about their spacing on the field. But they got behind 2-0 early, and there was nothing they could do.”
Cambodia’s chances are improved with the return of star striker Hok Sochetra. The only goal-scorer for the country in World Cup qualifying four years ago, Hok Sochetra quit the national team six weeks ago to concentrate on his full-time job with Samart. He has had less than a week of practice, and probably won’t start Sunday.
“I came back to help my team,” he said. “I’m practicing very hard. I feel as strong as I used to be.”
Fickert said, “We’ll see if his presence will encourage the other guys.”
“All the team’s happy to see him back,” Chan Arunreath said.
Both Fickert and Chan Arunreath hope there’s a loud crowd at Old Stadium Sunday, although the match falls during the Khmer New Year celebration, which might affect attendance.
“I hope we have a lot of Cambodian fans,” said Chan Arunreath, who figures to be more accurate with his shots when the crowd is yelling for him rather than against him. “They will help encourage our fight to win.”