Plucky Philippines strike at the death to deny Cambodia historic achievement at Southeast Asian Games

Expectations will always be high as hosts of a major tournament -- and such is indeed the case of Cambodia at the 32nd Southeast Asian Games.

Even though they are not one of ASEAN football's traditional powerhouses, there is optimism that they can advance to the semifinals of the men's football tournament this year.

Especially after they did so for the first time ever just back in 2019, and with home advantage this time around.

On Tuesday, they were not only on course to taking a big step towards that achievement but also headed for a piece of history.

Never before have the Cambodians won their opening two matches at a SEA Games.

For 75 minutes, after Ky Rina had fired them ahead against Philippines in the 16th minute, they were set to make history following their opening-day 4-0 rout of Timor-Leste.

They had looked the livelier and more dangerous of the two teams for much of the contest with a failure to convert their dominance into further goals the only criticism of their play.

But that is a massive aspect of a football game.

And their inability to put the result beyond doubt came back to bite them as Philippines began to grow as the tie wore on, eventually equalising in the 92nd minute through a superb header from substitute Dov Carino.

It would be wrong to say the result was cruel on the enterprising Cambodians that have, for several years now, been promising to upset the established order in Southeast Asian football with the potential they have shown.

Nonetheless, that statement would also be unfair to a raw but spirited Philippine outfit who were never really in the contest yet refused to believe they were out of it up till the very end.

Some of that has to be credited to recently-appointed coach Rob Gier, the former captain of the senior team who epitomised the never-say-die spirit that led Philippines to a maiden AFF Championship semifinal appearance in 2010 when they were massive underdogs.

Firm but encouraging even when in his days as a player and skipper, it is easy to imagine what kind of influence Gier has on the mentality of his charges even if he might not have had much time to fully implement his tactical ideology.

The point earned -- their first after losing to Indonesia 3-0 on Saturday -- is a huge boost to Philippines' prospects of reaching the last four for the first time ever, given they will have reason to be optimistic that they can win their next two games against Timor-Leste and Myanmar, with a break on match day 4 in between.

Likewise, Cambodia will also still be believing their quest is far from over but they do have a more daunting road ahead with Group A favourites Indonesia still to come in the final round of group-stage action after they take on Myanmar in their next assignment on May 7.

Reaching the semis would be a huge achievement -- and a guaranteed pass mark -- for either Cambodia and Philippines but, barring a major upset involving the Indonesians, only one of them is likely to make it.

The plucky Filipinos will be boosted by the manner in which they snatched a valuable point on Tuesday.

For Cambodia, they must now set aside the disappointment of failing to make history and focus on the bigger task at hand.