The Cambodian under-23 football team will kick off their campaign at the 31st Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) with an opening game on May 9 against Laos. Their Japanese head coach Ryu Hirose expected that his young development players will want to show their best performances, as key striker Ean Pisei was ruled out of the match.
The Football Federation of Cambodia (FFC) officially announced the withdrawal of Pisey from the match on May 8, due to the Preah Khan Reach Svay Rieng player aggravating an old ankle injury during training in Vietnam. The FFC said striker Narong Kakada has been called up immediately to replace Pisei. The Tiffy Army player travelled to Hanoi on May 8 to join the national team.
The change to the squad did not affect the formation of the Cambodian team, as Kakada had been very close to making the final list. Hirose expected his young Kouprey to perform well, improve their skills and gain valuable match experience, as they continued their journey towards the 32nd SEA Games 2023, which Cambodia will host.
Speaking at a press conference ahead of their campaign in Vietnam, Hirose said: “We are preparing for next year’s SEA Games in Cambodia and at the same time the Cambodian Premier League is also helping to support preparation for the SEA Games in Hanoi. Some changes to the tournament’s rules have given us a lot more potential players, so we will be very happy to see how they perform in this event.”
“We know everyone is here to win, but at the same time a lot of teams in different groups are committed to playing older players. We are not selecting overage players because our focus has to be on next year’s games. You will be able to see the performances of many of our potential stars of next year’s games,” he added.
In the opening matches of Group B on May 7, Laos showed good form as they finished with a 2-2 draw with Singapore. The big shock of the day was when hot favourites Thailand lost 2-1 to Malaysia, after Anusak Jaiphet made an error and scored an own goal in injury time.
Hirose and national team manager Keisuke Honda have set the target of leading the young team to the semi-finals. Despite the intense competition, both have confidence in their young players’ commitment.
“We want to make it to the semi-finals and then as far as we can. This is the first time that Honda and I have participated in a SEA Games. The schedule is very tight, but we will approach the tournament game by game,” said Hirose.
The Cambodian Under-23 national football team is in Group B with Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Laos. They will play their opening match against Laos at 4pm before taking on Singapore in two days time. Cambodia will face Thailand on May 14 and finally Malaysia on May 16. Malaysia is currently top of the table with three points, while Laos and Singapore have one point each. Thailand, considered the strongest team in the group, remain on zero points after their upset loss to Malaysia.