2018 will be the seventh time that Cambodia have featured in the finals of the AFF Suzuki Cup and with an exiting generation of young talent starting to blossom it marks perhaps their best chance of making a serious dent on the competition.

Under the guidance of the experienced local coach Prak Sovannara, Cambodia have set lofty targets of not only getting out of the group stage for the first time in their history but also of firmly cementing themselves in the upper tier of Southeast Asian nations, according to the 45-year-old mentor.

“In 2016 we couldn’t progress from the group stage and for this tournament we have set a clear target and that’s to ensure that we are amongst the top six nations in Southeast Asia.”

In addition to having a core group of players who are still in their early twenties but with vast experience under their belts for the first time Cambodia enters the Suzuki Cup with a number of those talents having experience of playing outside of the country and Sovannara feels that will be vital for his team’s hopes later this year.

“We have four players - Chan Vathanaka, Keo Sokpheng, Prak Mony Udom and Thierry Chantha Bin - all of whom are playing professionally in Malaysia so the experience that those players can bring back to the national team will be a key factor in trying to help us to the top of the Suzuki Cup.”

Slotted in Pot 4 ahead of the highly anticipated draw next month, Sovannara, in his third stint in charge of Cambodia, is straight to the point when questioned on which nations he hopes to avoid whilst also arguing that his team shouldn’t be viewed as minnows.

“We’ve seen in many league matches this season in Southeast Asia that the results of the bottom teams and the top teams are not so different and we can see that in results of certain national teams too.

“What we can say then is that all teams in this Suzuki Cup are likely to improve and be stronger than last time but as for any nations I’m hoping to avoid I can’t really pinpoint any team because the reality is that all nations in this competition are strong.”

One thing that the coach is clearly excited about is the prospect for Cambodia to host their first ever home AFF Suzuki Cup match following changes to the competition format that will see all nations playing their group matches on a home and away basis.

“I can’t say enough about how important this is for our nation and it’s a great chance to promote and keep football as our number one sport.

“When we look back to other international matches we regularly get 30,000 people for our matches and I’m sure this will be the case for all our matches at the AFF Suzuki Cup and that will be a big benefit for us, for sure.”