Keisuke Honda said goodbye to the players this week as his tenure as head coach of the Cambodian senior national team came to an end.

“I hope the Cambodian national team will play in the World Cup in my lifetime,” said the Japanese football great, who had led the national team since 2018.

The Football Federation of Cambodia (FFC) issued a statement thanking Honda for all his time and hard work with the Cambodian national team from August 2018 to January 2023.

The 3-1 defeat to Thailand in the AFF Mitsubishi Electric Cup 2022 on January 2 was the last time the former AC Milan forward led the Cambodian national team.

Honda, a key player for Japan, scoring four goals in three World Cups, said the Cambodia national team would always have a place in his heart.

The 36-year-old spoke of his wish of seeing the Cambodia team grow and one day making history by playing at the World Cup as Japan had.

He urged the Cambodia national team to work hard in matches and in training, and to build on their impressive display against Thailand on January 2, which garnered much praise despite the scoreline.

After the match, Honda told the Cambodian team: “If you play at that level every week, you know how far you will be able to progress.

“You have to play at this level all the time, play as well as possible, because this is the springboard to the next level. So it is not only about matches, but also training.

“The highest levels are maintained by practising every day, and by remembering that your efforts are not just for you, but also for your families and your country.”

Honda also asked the Cambodian players to use all the skills, knowledge and experience they had gained in training the next generation, not waiting until they had retired, but starting now.

He said he had begun doing this almost 10 years ago when playing for AC Milan in Italy’s Serie A.

“It is always amazing to share knowledge and experience with the next generation. I started running a football academy 10 years ago, when I was playing for AC Milan, and you should do the same.

“Pass on all the skills, techniques and experience you have acquired, and I hope the Cambodian team will play in the World Cup in my lifetime.”

FFC secretary-general Keo Sareth recently told local media that the Cambodian U22s will attend a training camp abroad as part of the preparations for the 2023 SEA Games, which the Kingdom is hosting for the first time.

“From February onwards, we will have training camps both inside and outside the country, with the Cambodia national team going abroad to train.

“The federation is aiming to train in Thailand because the country has a lot of good clubs that we can train and play with, with the aim being to practise with strong teams and players outside Cambodia,” he said.

The FFC is strengthening its professional-standard training to the level of other countries, with the national team having a number coaches – including physical, psychological and technical coaches – undertaking a range of training, as well as carrying out monitoring in areas such as diet.

The Kingdom’s football body is also providing additional training on strategy in small and large teams to ensure the Cambodian U22s are best placed to reach or surpass the set goal of reaching the semi-finals of the SEA Games next year.