The FourFourTwo Preview: Cambodia vs Singapore

2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers | Phnom Penh Olympic Stadium | Thu 11 June | 7.30pm

Billed as

Road to Russia 2018. (It doesn’t hurt to dream, surely?)

The lowdown

The Cambodia clash, seven months after the humiliating 3-1 defeat to Malaysia that saw Singapore’s AFF Suzuki Cup defence come to a premature end, will be a chance for the latter to assess how far they have come since.

The  Lions were drawn to take part in round two of World Cup 2018 qualifying alongside Cambodia, Japan, Afghanistan and Syria in Group E. The eight group matches only take on extra importance, given they now double up as the passage to the 2019 AFC Asian Cup in United Arab Emirates.

Each group winner will be joined by the four best group runners-up to not only advance to the third round of World Cup qualification, but also qualify for the Asian Cup finals.

Singapore form

  • Singapore 5-1 Brunei (Friendly)
  • Bangladesh 1-2 Singapore (Friendly)
  • Singapore 2-2 Guam (Friendly)
  • Thailand 2-0 Singapore (Friendly)
  • Singapore 1-3 Malaysia (AFF)

With players like Shakir Hamzah, Faris Ramli and Sahil Suhaimi involved in the Singapore Under-23s’ quest for gold medal at the concurrent Southeast Asian (SEA) Games tournament, Singapore coach Bernd Stange named a 22-strong squad, half of whom come from the LionsXII.

The rest were drawn from players who ply their trade overseas and locally in the S.League – Army United’s Hassan Sunny, Johor Darul Ta’zim’s Hariss Harun and Warriors FC’s Fazrul Nawaz make up a notable few.

Interestingly enough, there are also recalls for the likes of Yasir Hanapi, Izzdin Shafiq and Nazrul Nazari, who have not donned the national jersey for years.

So far, Singapore’s results in build-up friendlies, a 2-1 victory over Bangladesh and a 5-1 thrashing of Brunei, have been decent. Still, the perennial question amongst the local faithful remains – why are the Lions playing lower-ranked opponents to build up for matches of higher international standard?

It would nevertheless still be intriguing to evaluate what Stange has up his sleeves, measured by how well this new-look Lions team fares against Cambodia in Phnom Penh on Thursday evening.

After a disappointing end to the previous year which saw them fail to qualify for the Suzuki Cup proper, the Angkor Warriors have set about correcting things in 2015. They gunned down Macau 4-1 over two legs in March to reach the second round of World Cup qualifiers.

However, Lee Tae-Hoon, the man who inspired that triumph, is no longer at the helm. An internal shuffle by the Football Federation of Cambodia (FFC) put him solely in charge of the national U-23s currently contesting the SEA Games in Singapore.

Cambodia form

  • Cambodia 1-0 Myanmar (Friendly)
  • Cambodia 1-1 Laos (Friendly)
  • Macau 1-1 Cambodia (WCQ)
  • Cambodia 3-0 Macau (WCQ)
  • Singapore 4-2 Cambodia (Friendly)

The 54-year-old brought along several key players including the likes of Prak Mony Udom, Chan Vathanaka, Sos Suhana and Sok Chanraksmey, which makes the task awaiting the senior side more difficult yet.

Problems in regards to the administration and scheduling of the MCL have been well-documented, with the new season being delayed and marring preparations.

A postponement of the start of the season from March to July means these players have had no choice but to keep up with their fitness levels via training and friendly matches unfortunately.

To date, they have played a total of seven build-up tests, with wins against Cambodian Tiger FC and a MCL Japanese All-Star side flanking a heavy 3-0 loss to Svay Rieng FC, before subsequently being held by their own Under-23s and a MCL African All-Star XI.

Preparations were then wrapped up with a 1-1 home draw against Laos and then a 1-0 win against Myanmar in Nonthaburi, Thailand.

It must have been heartening for the local faithful to see the striking duo of Khuon Laboravy and Khim Borey racking up the goals, but it remains to be seen if the latter will feature in this game after the passing of his mother earlier this week.

Team News

Judging by the team’s shape in recent friendly victories over Bangladesh and Brunei, Stange already has a rough idea of his best eleven. A total of nine players started both matches and fans can expect them to play from the get-go again.

Zulfahmi Arifin and Madhu Mohana ought to reprise their club partnership at the heart of defence, with Shaiful Esah lining up on the left side. In midfield, Izzdin and Hariss will pair up, allowing Safuwan Baharudin to rove around.

Last but not least, Fazrul and Hafiz Sujad will be the wide-men tasked to deliver crosses into the box for lone striker Khairul Amri.

The only uncertainties are at right-back, where Stange seemed undecided between Nazrul and Ismadi Mukhtar, and in between the sticks, where Hassan Sunny and Izwan Mahbud have looked similarly excellent.

Interim Cambodia coach Kazunori Ohara has resorted to naming a 26-man squad dominated by players from last season’s Metfone C-League (MCL) second runners-up Nagaworld FC.

Defender Tieng Tiny and captain Kouch Sokumpheak therefore form key pillars of the group, the pair sharing almost 70 caps between themselves.

Interestingly, the former is one of the few names along with the likes of Borey, Teab Vathanak and Pov Phearith who have returned to the national fold after an absence of a few years.

Meanwhile, vice-captain Laboravy plays for runners-up Boeung Ket Angkor and was the joint third-highest scorer in the league with 11 goals.

Player to Watch: Khairul Amri

There is no doubt that the Lions’ hopes of winning lies firmly on Amri’s shoulders.

After a mixed start to the season, the 30-year-old has hit a rich vein of form in the last couple of months, first inspiring the LionsXII’s dream FA Cup run with his two expertly-taken strikes against Terengganu FA in the semi-finals, before scoring three goals in two games for Singapore.

Against a weakened Cambodia side, Amri must surely relish his chances of adding to his tally of 28 goals in 96 caps thus far.

The coaching battle

It will be a battle of wits between two coaches who are on opposite sides of the spectrum.

Last five meetings

  • Singapore 4-2 Cambodia (Nov’ 14)
  • Singapore 1-0 Cambodia (Nov’ 13)
  • Singapore 5-0 Cambodia (Dec’ 08)
  • Cambodia 0-2 Singapore (Oct’ 05)
  • Singapore 1-0 Cambodia (Nov’ 00)

Singapore coach Bernd Stange, who turned 67 in March, has over 40 years of international experience, leading teams like East Germany, Oman, Iraq and Belarus before taking up the Singapore post in May 2013.

On the home bench is 42-year-old Cambodian counterpart Kazunori Ohara, who is taking up only his second prominent coaching role.

Prior to taking over the post in April, he had bossed Bhutan between 2012 and 2014. The tiny-nation state was, until recently, the lowest-ranked national team in the FIFA rankings.

Having been fast-tracked into his new role just weeks after being appointed as the FFC’s technical director, Ohara will hope to build upon the solid foundations laid by his predecessor Lee.

Facts and Figures

  • Singapore have the upper hand in direct encounters against Cambodia. Both sides have faced each other 14 times in history, with the Lions winning 11, drawing two and losing just once out of the lot.
  • The last competitive fixture between the two teams was in the 2008 AFF Suzuki Cup when Singapore triumphed 5-0. Agu Casmir (two), Fahrudin Mustafic, Indra Sahdan and Noh Alam Shah were the goal-scorers that day.
  • Both sides are separated by 24 places in the FIFA rankings – Singapore are ranked 154th, while Cambodia are ranked 178th.

FourFourTwo predictions

FFT.com Editor Zee Ko: Cambodia 0 Singapore 3. The Lions will want to get off to a good start here and ideally need all three points. If they can strike early, it will go a long way towards a win.

Gary Koh: Cambodia 1 Singapore 1. Singapore may need to survive a tricky start in Phnom Penh. Though the Lions’ veterans could be decisive, the hosts will be buoyed by the home support as well as their recent goalless draw with Myanmar, and are capable of springing a rude shock on the fancied visitors.

Kenneth Tan: Cambodia 1 Singapore 2. With the nucleus of the team drawn from the LionsXII and still fresh off their Malaysia FA Cup triumph, the Lions should be going into this game bubbling with confidence. I fancy them to start this qualifying campaign on a good note.

The Straits Times’ Deepanraj Ganesan: Cambodia 0 Singapore 3. The Cambodians are improving, but with their better players competing atthe SEA Games, The Lions can take advantage and get their qualifying campaign off to a flyer.

All images: Football Association of Singapore