Cambodia head coach Leonardo Vittorino and his senior side take on Vietnam today in Hanoi in the third round of 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualifying.
Cambodia head coach Leonardo Vittorino and his senior side take on Vietnam today in Hanoi in the third round of 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualifying. Sreng Meng Srun

Cambodia aiming for turnaround

Cambodia national head coach Leonardo Vittorino could carry some tactical and positional concerns to the My Dinh National Stadium in Hanoi today when the Cambodian senior footballers face Vietnam in the second leg of their Group C clash in the 2019 Asian Cup third-round qualifiers (at 7pm), having lost the first leg at home 2-1 to a late goal on September 5.

The 1-0 win against Afghanistan at Olympic Stadium in the campaign continues to be the Brazilian’s rallying cry, though the U23 team he led in Kuala Lumpur suffered badly at the 2017 SEA Games in August and the seniors have also been under lot of pressure to show signs of improvement following their 3-1 loss to Indonesia in Bekasi in a friendly five days ago.

“What does [the victory over Afghanistan] tell you?” Vittorino said before the ill-fated SEA Games campaign. “We have potential. We need to work hard to harness it well.”

Jordan, who trounced Cambodia 7-0 in Amman at the start of the qualifiers, currently lead the group with seven points and head to the neutral venue in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, to take on Afghanistan, while Vietnam, who are second with five points, with three of those coming from the previous encounter, will strive to build on home advantage.

A decidedly stronger Indonesia exposed Cambodian weaknesses at the front and the back, bringing to the fore Vittorino’s ongoing struggle to infuse cohesion in the ranks, one that has often been found wanting.

Despite making several format alterations and style changes, the coach has been unable to find a balance both he and the team are comfortable with, and one that could withstand pressures from more organised and skilful sides like Vietnam.

While Vittorino has been insistent that he needed more time to rebuild the side as a strong unit, the chain of poor performances by the national side has ignited furious reaction on social media on a huge scale, with critics often questioning his player choices and on-pitch tactics.

As of now, the general population continues to provide unwavering support to the national team, as evident by big turnouts for home matches. But as one former national footballer warned, that kind of patronage could soon disappear if the results do not match that enthusiasm.

Weak foundation?
Then there are those who seriously question Vittorino’s firm belief that he is out to build a strong future. However well meant this strategy is, how can he ever hope to build a strong structure on a foundation that is showing no signs of holding up?

Therein lies the dilemma for Vittorino, who seemingly is trying his best to make the most of the rather average hand he has been dealt.

With every game that attracts national attention, the most popular and watched sport in the Kingdom raises debate as to how good its national side is and how long before it gets better. A good result against Vietnam may set a positive tone in this nationwide debate.