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Cambodia reaches semis for the first time in 60 years

Jose Rodriguez T. Senase / Khmer Times Share:
Keo Sokpheng celebrates after scoring the Kingdom’s third goal against Malaysia yesterday to secure his team’s SEA Games semi-final appearance – its first in 60 years. KT/Khem Sovannara

The Cambodian men’s football team made history after reaching the semifinals for the first time in the Southeast Asian Games.

Cambodia reached the milestone after a 3-1 upset over heavily favoured Malaysia in their Group A match at the Rizal Memorial Stadium yesterday.

Since first joining the SEA Games in 1959, Cambodia has never advanced past the first round.

Despite the win, Cambodia’s advance to the next round was only assured after the Philippines beat Timor-Leste at the Biñan Football Stadium.

The Philippines routed Timor-Leste, 6-1, but got eliminated from semis contention by virtue of inferior goal difference. Cambodia had a +7 goal difference to the Philippines’ +5.

Both teams had plenty of scoring opportunities to start the game.

A fumbling Haziq Nadzli almost allowed Cambodia defender Seut Baraing to score in the 12th minute.

Meanwhile, on the Malaysian side, forward Luqman Hakim and attacking midfielder Danial Haqim also failed to convert excellent scoring opportunities up close.

The first half ended with both teams without a goal. With the Malaysia versus Cambodia match headed to a draw, it appeared that the Philippines, which was leading Timor-Leste at the same time, would be the one advancing to the next round.

Cambodian players celebrate after the stunning 3-1 win against Malaysia yesterday. KT/Khem Sovannara

But to the delight of Cambodia’s legions of fans back home, the Angkor Warriors suddenly turned the game around in the most spectacular fashion.

In the 56th minute, Nadzli turned back a Cambodian attack, only for the ball to head straight to midfielder In Sodavid, whose attempt from the middle went in for a 1-0 Cambodia lead.

One minute later, Cambodia scored another goal for a 2-0 lead. Forward Sieng Chanthea, who was left alone on the left wing with a single defender marking him, expertly dribbled around and scored spectacularly despite Nadzli’s best efforts to stop him.

Forward Keo Sokpheng scored another goal in the 68th minute as Felix Dalmas’ side erected a 3-0 advantage.

The wards of Ong Kim Swee desperately tried to score, but the best they could manage was a Dominic Tan goal in the 89th minute which reduced the deficit to 1-3.

The loss is particularly painful for Malaysia, which was expected to reach the finals this year. Malaysia won the silver medal in the 2017 SEA Games.

Cambodia joins Myanmar in the semis, where they will face the top two teams from Group B. The top two teams from Group B will not be known until today. Myanmar topped Group A with 10 points.

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