AFF Suzuki Cup 2018: 5 talking points as Malaysia edge past Cambodia in opener

2018 AFF Suzuki Cup: BEST XI

Malaysia held on to a first-half goal scored by Norshahrul Idlan to edge past Cambodia 1-0 and get their 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup campaign off to a winning start. However, it was not a straightforward win for the Malayan Tigers against the Angkor Warriors as many expected it would have been. 

Here are five talking points from the 90 minutes of action.

1. Keisuke Honda absent from the Cambodia dugout

Cambodia began their 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup campaign without the presence of Japan legend Keisuke Honda on the touchlines. Honda, appointed the team’s general manager and coach, is still playing professionally at A-League outfit Melbourne Victory but was expected by at least a small portion of the fans to make it to the Angkor Warriors’ AFF Championship fixtures.

His stand-in Felix Gonzalez Dalmas coached the time in his absence and did a good job of it as well. “He won’t be here for this particular game but he’s still communicating with us and joins our meetings. [He] knows what’s going on. It’s different not to have him here but I don’t think it will affect us. Hopefully, he’ll get to join us in the later games,” Dalmas said before the game.

2. Malaysia must improve in order to challenge

The 2010 champions were expected to go through this fixture with relative ease, but they were made to sweat for the three points by a resolute Cambodia in the tournament curtain-raiser. However, the Harimau Malaya managed to nick a win out of the match with a first-half goal, but performances like this will not help them go far in the regional competition.

They have Laos waiting in the next game and although that will be another comfortable fixture for the Tigers, their clash with Vietnam on November 16 will be fought in a different level. The Golden Dragons scored three past Laos in their Group A opener and Malaysia will have to better that if they are to have an upper hand going into the all-important encounter in Hanoi.

3. Cambodia’s pressing game was up to the mark

Their general manager might have been missing from the action but the Angkor Warriors’ tactics were on point throughout the 90 minutes. It’s a shame that they couldn’t salvage anything from the game. Chantha Bin Thierry and co were tight at the back and did not show any fear to take the game to the Malaysians.

They pressed the Malay players deep into their own half and gave little room for the opposition’s creative players to work on — leaving Malaysia to protect the lead they took via Norshahrul Idlan in the half-hour mark. It simply wasn’t their day as they couldn’t even nick a point despite dominating in all the attacking areas during the game.

4. The hosts forgot to bring their scoring boots!

From the word go, Cambodia were on the front foot. They came out of the blocks flying and Reung Bunheing missing his footing when he had the chance to convert summed up the rest of the evening for the home side. They came close to scoring on plenty of occasions, but either Malaysia did just about enough to deny them or they themselves ended up being wasteful in front of the goal.

Either way, one thing is for sure — that Cambodia’s training sessions in the buildup to the Myanmar match on November 12 could feature a whole lot of finishing drills.

5. AFF Suzuki Cup’s new format is working!

The ASEAN Football Federation made sweeping changes to the format of their showpiece competition for the first time in 22 years this time around. And from the early sign of things, it is a move that could be beneficial for the football in the region. Not only does it provide a level playing field for teams like Cambodia tonight against stronger opposition, but it has also stirred the fan culture in the region.

A good number of Malay travelling supporters made it to the Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh on Thursday to cheer their national team while Cambodia fans were at their usual best. There were also Vietnamese fans making their way to Laos for their group match and together these fans made it a memorable evening of football!