Unbeaten Cambodia face Timor-Leste, poised to book AFF Cup spot
Cambodia will head into their final 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup qualifier against Timor-Leste on Friday aware that their destiny remains in their own hands.
Having been buoyed by near-fanatical support from their home fans over the past week, the Angkor Warriors are top of qualification, with maximum points from their opening two matches. It sees them hold a three-point lead over Laos and Brunei.
They finish off their campaign on Friday evening with what appears to be a straightforward encounter at the Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh against the bottom-placed Timorese, who have already been eliminated.
However, with only one team advancing from the qualifiers as opposed to the top two in previous editions, Cambodia coach Lee Tae-hoon has warned his charges that they can ill afford to get complacent in their quest to reach their first Suzuki Cup since 2008.
"We're not through yet so our next game, like the first, will be very important," said the South Korean, following Tuesday's 3-0 victory over Brunei.
"As such, I will not be experimenting or trying out new players just yet.
"[Against Brunei] we played a little bit more comfortably but some players made little mistakes.
"Our players really want to get through to the next round but, if they want to do so, they will have to cope with the burden."
With Lee set to field his strongest lineup against Timor-Leste, all eyes will be on playmaker Prak Mony Udom, who is the top scorer in qualification with three goals to his name.
Even a draw would be enough for the Cambodians to progress, but should they slip up, both Laos and Brunei are perfectly positioned to capitalise.
Victory for either side at the RSN Stadium would see them pull level with Cambodia, with first spot then being decided on goal difference in the event of a tie on points.
Having played in every edition of the tournament proper, since its original incarnation as the Tiger Cup back in 1996, the Laotians are in real danger of missing out for the first time ever.
They have been far from at their best so far in the qualifiers, although coach Veunsavanh Sivisay would have been relieved to see star man Soukaphone Vongchiengkham find some form in their previous outing with his 84th-minute winner in Tuesday's 2-1 triumph over Timor-Leste.
Meanwhile, the Bruneians are aiming for their first appearance at the Suzuki Cup since 1996.
After a promising start saw them beat the Timorese in their opening game, their prospects were dealt a real blow after they were beaten by Cambodia.
Nonetheless, Wasps' coach Mike Wong believes there were some positives to take from that defeat as they aim for one final push against Laos on Friday.
"We did ourselves proud and I'm proud of the boys," said Wong. "We kept a clean sheet in the second half, which was a positive.
"We made a mistake with the early goals [but] I'm not going to point fingers - it's something we just have to accept."
Gabriel Tan is a TV and radio pundit who writes for ESPN FC and The New Paper on Southeast Asian football. Twitter: @gabetan13.