Tomorrow (Wednesday) Cambodia will get to hear who they meet in the 1st qualifying round of the Asian section of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. 43 Asian countries are vying for the four automatic places in the finals. Cambodia, as one of the 16 lowest ranked teams in Asia, will be in one of eight two-team groups for home and away matches on 29 June and 3 July this year. Eight winners from the 1st round will join 22 higher ranked teams in round 2, again with home and away matches on 23 and 28 July. Cambodia will be hoping to reach Round 2 at least. The 16 teams, with their Asian World Cup ranking, are as follows: 28. Malaysia, 29. Afghanistan, Cambodia, 31. Nepal, 32. Bangladesh, 33. Sri Lanka, Vietnam, 35. Mongolia, 36. Pakistan, 37. Palestine, 38. Timor Leste, 39. Macau, 40. Chinese Taipei, Myanmar, 42. Laos, Philippines.
Yes, you read it right, Cambodia are ranked higher than Vietnam and Philippines. The former is a quirk of the ranking system, whilst the Philippines, who reached the semis of the Suzuki Cup in December and then last week progressed to the AFC Challenge Cup finals with a 3-0 win over Bangladesh, believe they may well draw Cambodia in the World Cup qualifiers. We shall see. The 1st round of the World Cup qualifiers falls during the mid-season break in the Metfone C-League, which is handy, though leaves little time for preparation of the national squad.
Talking of the C-League, it all kicks-off again this coming Saturday (2 April) when Phnom Penh Crown meet Naga Corp in the season's opening fixture at the Olympic Stadium (start 3pm). I'm eagerly awaiting that one. The football federation have changed their minds again and have scrapped the so-called Super 4 Play-offs at the end of the season, preferring instead to stick to the tried and tested first past the finishing post. The C-League were one of only a few leagues in the world who used the play-off system to determine their champions, a practice that I'm vehemently opposed to. FFC spokesperson May Tola said; "We are doing away with the play-offs. The team emerging at the top of the league table [at the end of the season] will get the champions tag." Apparently they bowed to pressure from the clubs themselves. Phnom Penh Crown have seen both sides of the play-off coin, so to speak. In 2009 they topped the league after the regular season but finished 4th in the play-offs. Last season, they flopped to 4th in the league but won the championship via the play-offs. This season they are aiming to be in top spot come the end of the season in early September.