It's encouraging for Cambodian football that the senior national team have qualified for next month's AFC Challenge Cup group matches. However, the four group competition of sixteen teams in total is actually the final qualifying round of the Challenge Cup before the tournament proper will be held with eight teams, sometime in 2012. Cambodia have been drawn in Group C and will play against the Maldives (20 Mar), Tajikistan (23 Mar) and Kyrgyzstan (25 Mar), with all the games taking place in Male, in the Maldives. Three months later, at the end of June, there will be two World Cup 2014 qualification knock-out matches to be played as well, though details aren't yet firmed-up and to who and where. I'm presuming that the Football Federation in Cambodia will arrange for a break in the Metfone C-League season to accommodate these World Cup matches.
In the meantime, let's take a quick look at the future of football in Cambodia, which lies in the youth. The next level down from the senior team are the Under-23s, who enter the SEA Games every two years and who will be looking to fare better in Indonesia this December, than they did in Laos in 2009. So it's perhaps a mite disappointing that Cambodia haven't entered an Under-23 team in the AFF U-23 Championship that will be held in Indonesia in July, a tournament which will include the likes of the host country, Singapore, Philippines, Myanmar and Timor Leste. Admittedly, it would've meant taking eligible players away from the C-League competition but there is always a price to pay for giving players the right level of exposure at international level. That also applies at Under-19 level too. Myanmar will host the AFF U-19 Championship in September this year and Cambodia will be noticeable by their absence, as they were in the AFC U-19 Championships last year. The usual suspects will be there including Thailand, Vietnam and Laos. On a positive note, the country's Under-16s will be donning the red jerseys in Laos for the AFF U-16 Championships between 7-17 July in a group alongside Myanmar, Vietnam, Singapore and Philippines. No easy ride for our youngsters.