Malaysia's hopes of kicking off their 2018 AFF Cup campaign with a win over Cambodia in Phnom Penh on Thursday have been boosted by confirmation that the hosts will be without mentor Keisuke Honda.
The Japanese star was appointed in August to become general manager of the Angkor Warriors but took on the role of acting head coach in September's friendly against Malaysia that ended in a 3-1 defeat.
With Honda busy on Sunday playing for Melbourne Victory against Central Coast Mariners in the Australian A-League, he will miss the opening game of Southeast Asia's biennial tournament. The 32-year-old is expected to head north as soon as the international break kicks in on Nov. 12.
Honda should be on the sidelines for Cambodia's trip to Myanmar on Monday and at home to Laos eight days later, returning to Australia to face Sydney on Nov. 25.
Felix Gonzalez will have sole control against Malaysia, although the Japan international has reportedly been in contact with Cambodia's players and staff via video link.
"He won't be here for this particular game but he's still communicating with us and joins our meetings," Gonzalez said ahead of the game.
"[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."
The Argentine coach believes that Cambodia have learned from their loss to Malaysia in September.
"It was a good game and we lost but we learned a lot from the game," he said. "We saw our mistakes and we tried to fix them."
Malaysia coach Tan Cheng-hoe knows it is going to be a tough test in the opening game of Group A.
"As you know, even though we beat them quite recently ... we still think that Cambodia is a difficult team, and they are even stronger now," Tan, who hoping to add to Malaysia's 2012 triumph in the 10-nation competition, said ahead of the match.
The top two teams from the two groups of five progress to the semifinals in December which are played on a home and away basis.