Keisuke Honda spoke emotionally of his five years as manager of the Cambodia men’s national football team after his young charges on May 10 heartbreakingly failed to qualify for the semi-finals of the 2023 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games.

Honda – who described the fans as his “energy and optimism” – led Cambodia to the semi-finals of the 2019 Philippines SEA Games for the first time in the side’s history, but they could not better that showing with the Kingdom hosting the 32nd edition.

The Cambodian under-22 men’s side exited the tournament on the final day of the group stage after a 2-1 defeat to Indonesia following a 4-0 victory over Timor-Leste, a 1-1 draw with the Philippines and a 2-0 loss to Myanmar.

The failure to be able to fight for a medal at the SEA Games the Kingdom is hosting for the first time in its history brings about a disappointing end to Honda’s time as manager as his contract expires.

After an emotional farewell on the night of May 10, Honda expressed his appreciation the following morning for the fans throughout his five-year tenure at the helm of the national team – and his disappointment at not giving them more to cheer.

“As you know, my project with the Cambodian national team finished last night. We wanted so badly to make you happy with a better result, but we couldn’t do it. Life does not always go as hoped, and the reality is sometimes hard to accept.

“I have felt the same many times throughout the project since 2018, but you supporters were always my energy and my optimism. This is why I continued the project until the very end.

“I would like to say thank you for everything over last five years. You gave me and all the players everything, and I am proud of all of you.

“Lastly, I want to just say this: ‘Have a dream, and follow that dream.’ Thank you and see you again!” the Japanese football legend said in a social media post.

After a promising start with a 4-0 demolition of Timor-Leste, Cambodia conceded a late equaliser against the Philippines before losing 2-0 to Myanmar, with the SEA Games medal dream finally ending at Olympic Stadium on May 10.

After the match, Cambodia captain Sieng Chanthea apologised to the fans in attendance for failing to make it out of Group A, and thanked them for their fervent support.

“We would like to thank all the Cambodian people who encouraged us in all of the four matches, and we apologise for our poor performance.

“Despite not being able to continue to the next round this time, we hope everyone will continue to give us their strong support,” Chanthea said.

The top two in Group A, Thailand and Vietnam, faced off on the evening of May 11 to decide who went through as winners.

The action now turns to the medal places, with Indonesia, the winners of Group A, to face the runners-up in Group B in the first semi-final at Olympic Stadium on May 13 at 4pm.

The winners of Group B take on Group A runners-up Myanmar at the same venue at 8pm in the day’s other semi, with the winners of both semi-final matches to meet in the final on May 16.