Cambodia reach the second round of the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers for two successive World Cup tournaments in a row after they secured double wins over Pakistan to seal a 4-1 triumph on aggregate in the preliminary round.
The KoupreyBlues claimed a tremendous 2-0 victory against Pakistan in the first leg at home before they produced another brilliant performance in the second leg as they came from behind to secure a massive 2-1 win
Felix Dalmas made a shock decision over his player selection as he left out Cambodia’s best striker Chan Vathanaka, who has just returned to Boeung Ket after being released by Malaysian club PKNS.
Another unexpected absentee from the Cambodia National Team squad was Nagaworld goalkeeper Sou Yaty, who is by far the best goal stopper with his wide range of experience on international stage.
The Argentinian head coach was then criticized heavily over his selection of the squad for the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers first round that most of Cambodia’s supporters regard as the biggest football tournament for Cambodia.
The 31-year-old announced Cambodia’s squad for the two-legged tie against Pakistan just three days before the first leg, but the players produced a stunning display in both home and away encounters to secure a 4-1 win on aggregate.
Several Cambodia international players shone against Pakistan, but three unlikely players including Keo Soksela, Reung Bunheing, and Sieng Chanthea, who were the target of criticism, emerged themselves as the heroes.
Felix Dalmas benched experienced goalkeeper Um Vichet and handed a surprising start to Keo Soksela, who received so much criticism during his appearances for Cambodia in the AFC U23 Championship qualifiers.
The Visakha goalkeeper took his chance as he produced a number of great saves to help Cambodia keep a vital clean sheet in their 2-0 win over Pakistan at home.
The 21-year-old made double saves to deny Nabi’s efforts from the close range. Nabi’s volley was saved by Keo Soksela’s one strong hand before he made another great block from the Pakistan midfielder’s second effort from the rebound.
With ten minutes remaining, Sieng Chanthea, who was brought on to replace Sath Rosib opened the scoring to put Cambodia in front. The 16-year-old striker bagged his first senior goal for Cambodia as he smashed it home into the top right corner.
Another late strike from Nagaworld skipper Kouch Sokumpheak helped Cambodia bring a two-goal advantage into the second leg that Cambodia came from behind to seal a 2-1 win in Qatar.
Hassan Bashir netted from the penalty spot to give Pakistan the lead in the eighteenth minute of the play before Boeung Ket full-back Sath Rosib drew Cambodia level in the second half.
Reung Bunheing, who almost retired from the international football after he was insulted by the fans as he missed several big chances during the AFF Suzuki Cup back in 2018, surprisingly became Cambodia’s hero with his match winner.
The Ministry of National Defense skipper, who can play in two different roles as a center-back and striker, silenced his critics after he slotted home a late goal to secure a superb 2-1 second-leg win for Cambodia.
Winning both legs (4-1 on aggregate) that sends Cambodia into the second round of the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers and a great team performance with confidence should be a clear message to Felix Dalmas’s critics over his player selection.
Photos courtesy of Football Federation of Cambodia