On Tuesday night at Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium, the Angkor Warriors faced off against Bahrain in the second match of their 2022 World Cup Asian zone second round qualifying campaign, eventually losing 1-0 in a fighting performance.
It seemed as if the whole city had come to support the national side, hopeful to get a win in what also serves as the second round of qualification for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup.
The 50,000 capacity stadium was filled to the brim, along with a large crowd watching from outside.
The home side, managed by Japan legend Keisuke Honda and his Argentinian assistant Felix Dalmas, are in a tricky Group C that also contains Iran, Iraq and Hong Kong, who Cambodia held to a more than respectable 1-1 draw at the same venue last Thursday.
Cambodia were undaunted by their higher ranked opponents and were the better side for much of the first half.
But the visitors held firm and went close in the 38th minute, Warriors goalkeeper Keo Soksela seeing off the danger with a fine save.
After an lively half-time show from a student band, the second half shifted gear with Bahrain moving the ball about with ease and producing several good chances in attack.
Soksela was outstanding all night but eventually Bahrain found a way through.
In the 78th minute, the Cambodian goalkeeper could only palm away an expertly placed corner to Kamil Al Aswad, who fired home for his second goal in as many matches.
The goal only briefly silenced the stadium, with the exuberant crowd soon back in high spirits and the Cambodian players responding by launching a series of attacks.
But Bahrain were not making it easy, smothering cross after cross and seeing off whatever the Angkor Warriors threw at them.
Cambodia’s best chance came with eight minutes left, a sublime chip from midfield leading to a chance that went just wide of the goal.
So Bahrain took the honours but the home team will be proud of their performance against a Bahrain side that had reached the last 16 at the AFC Asian Cup in January.
Cambodia will need at least a repeat of Tuesday’s efforts when they head to formidable Iran on October 10.