Cam­bo­dia host Malaysia in Suzuki opener

The Phnom Penh Post - - SPORT - HS Man­ju­nath

IT IS the start of an ex­cit­ing phase for Cam­bo­dian foot­ball as key changes in style, at­ti­tude and char­ac­ter ush­ered in by Ja­panese mae­stro Keisuke Honda and his Ar­gen­tine friend and coach Felix Gon­za­lez will be put to com­pet­i­tive test for the first time when the King­dom takes on Malaysia in their Group A Opener of the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup home tie at Olympic Sta­dium on Thurs­day evening.

The much an­tic­i­pated clash be­tween these fa­mil­iar re­gional foes, ex­pected to at­tract a packed sta­dium, is set for a 6:30pm kick-off.

It is also the dawn of a new era for the vis­i­tors as Tan Chang Hoe takes charge of the team as head coach with Malaysia seek­ing their sec­ond ti­tle since win­ning the 2010 edi­tion and fin­ish­ing run­ners-up in 1996 and 2014.

Coach Gon­za­lez made it plain at a joint news con­fer­ence with his Malaysian coun­ter­part that Honda, who is cur­rently play­ing for Mel­bourne Vic­tory in Aus­tralia, will not be present for the game but is al­most cer­tain to be in­volved as the tour­na­ment moves on.

“Honda has been com­mu­ni­cat­ing with us and he is very much aware of what goes on. The team has been work­ing hard for nearly a month. We have worked out a new ap­proach and style. We have learnt some im­por­tant lessons from our 3-1 de­feat by Malaysia in a friendly and I am con­fi­dent the team will do well,” he said.

About the com­po­si­tion of the 23-mem­ber squad in re­la­tion to the drop­ping of three promis­ing young­sters, Gon­za­lez said the se­lec­tion was based on the best in­ter­est of the team and also the choices were de­cided upon through his con­sul­ta­tions with the squad. “It was be­tween me and the play­ers and the cri­te­ria, as all agreed, was to pick the best,” he added.

De­scrib­ing Malaysia as one of the strong con­tenders in a group that in­cludes Viet­nam, Myan­mar and Laos, the coach was cau­tiously op­ti­mistic that the team would per­form well.

For his part, Tang Chang Hoe said he had healthy re­spect for Cam­bo­dia’s courage but was ev­ery bit con­fi­dent that his team would de­liver a pos­i­tive re­sult.

“This side is in good shape and high spir­its and has a dif­fer­ent out­look from the one that won the friendly. We have a bet­ter bal­anced team and the dif­fer­ent com­po­nents of the team have come to­gether well, [with] new play­ers blend­ing well with the more es­tab­lished and ex­pe­ri­enced ones,” he said.

While the stakes are high on the per­sonal front for the new Malaysian coach in his first big game, for the high pro­file Cam­bo­dian coach­ing duo of Gon­za­lez and Honda, it is a great op­por­tu­nity to show the tens of thou­sands of fans who will turn up that Cam­bo­dian foot­ball fu­ture is in safe hands.

AFP

Cam­bo­dia coach Keisuke Honda (left) takes train­ing at Olympic Sta­dium in Septem­ber.

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