Cambodia defeated Brunei 2-1 on Saturday enabling the men’s national team to qualify for the 2008 Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup tournament for the first time.
In front of around 20,000 spectators at Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium, Cambodia dominated in a must-win game against Brunei, bringing the team’s points total to 7.
The Philippines also racked up 7 points in the qualifiers, but its 6 goals scored over four matches was well behind the nine Cambodian balls that found the net. As a result, Cambodia earned the second qualifying slot to advanced to the finals, held jointly by Thailand and Indonesia in December.
On Saturday, Brunei’s Hardi Anak Bujang scored the opening goal in the 44th minute, but Cambodia’s Sam El Nasa quickly answered with an injury-time score ahead of the halftime break.
Cambodia’s Khim Borey produced the winning goal in the 73rd minute to confirm a place in the AFF Suzuki Cup finals. The national team players hurled their blue jerseys into the crowd after the final whistle: a celebratory scene never before seen at Olympic Stadium.
“We have advanced, it was a success that we had not seen for a long time, in almost 10-years time,” Ouk Sethycheat, secretary-general of the Football Federation of Cambodia, said on Sunday. “We have never qualified before,” he added.
Cambodia will travel to Jakarta in December to play in the tournament’s Group B, which includes Indonesia, Burma and Singapore. Laos, who came out on top in the five-nation qualifying round, will play in Bangkok as part of Group A, which includes Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam.
“For me, I am proud and really happy, and the most important thing today is to go to the finals,” Cambodian coach Prak Sovannara said in a press conference after the game. He added that Saturday’s match proved to be the most hard-fought of the qualifying round—unsurprising given that Brunei also needed a win for it to stand a chance at qualifying.
Prak Sovannara also praised the winning scorer, Khim Borey, for his rapid improvement on the field of play. “Last year, he was really bad and now he has improved a lot,” Prak Sovannara said.
Ouk Sethycheat said that in preparation for the December games, the national team would invite Vietnamese football clubs to play them.
“The waiting teams are all good in South East Asia,” Ouk Sethycheat said.