Cambodia’s World Cup qualifying campaign came to a woeful close on Thursday night as the national team was beaten 6-0 by a vastly superior Syrian side in Oman.
Despite glimmers of hope—notably an impressive first half against Japan in Phnom Penh in November, which left the continental heavyweights rattled at halftime—Cambodia was outclassed in all eight qualifying matches and ended the campaign with a single goal and no points.
Thursday’s match illustrated the team’s chief dilemma throughout the qualifiers: whether to settle into a deep, defensive formation to keep the opposition’s offense from finding space in front of the goal, or choose a more aggressive setup. Manager Lee Tae-hoon opted for the latter in Oman and ultimately paid the price as Syria’s direct attacking play repeatedly unlocked Cambodia’s dire defense.
A slip by Pheng Hong in the seventh minute allowed Omar Kharbin to slot the ball under Cambodian goalkeeper Samreth Seiha. The Syrian striker doubled his tally after 20 minutes, tapping into a vacant net when the Cambodian defense was unable to deal with a speculative long ball.
The next two goals came from corners—one from an unmarked Ahmad Kalasi in the 57th minute and another from Cambodia’s Leng Makara, who sliced the ball into his own net shortly afterward.
Besides a complete lack of organization at the back, Cambodia’s midfield failed to string passes together all night, absent the more experienced heads of Thierry Chantha Bin and Kouch Sokumpheak.
Clinical strikes from the edge of the penalty box by Abdul Razak al-Hussein and Sanharib Malki in the final 10 minutes rounded off an impressive performance from Syria, supported by a scattering of fans at the Seeb Stadium.
The heavy loss marked the end of Cambodia’s qualifying campaign, which resulted in 27 goals conceded and one scored. Every other team in the group has one more game to play, with Japan in pole position with 19 points and Syria one point behind.