On Wednesday, the Cambodian national football team meet Laos at the Olympic Stadium in a 1st round FIFA World Cup qualifying match. It's the first of two legs and the winners will go onto meet China next month. This is the big one. It's the World Cup, the most important competition on the planet. It comes around once every 4 years. And if Cambodia can defeat Laos over two legs - the away game in Vientiane is on Sunday 3 July - they will play in China on 23 July and back in Phnom Penh on 28 July. That in itself is a big enough prize, to meet one of the world's super-powers on the international stage. A team lying 100 places above Cambodia in the World Rankings (China are in 77th spot). This is very important. Cambodia needs every ounce of talent as well as a dose of good luck to defeat Laos, who lie two places above Cambodia in the rankings, but to do it, Cambodia needs its best eleven on the pitch. So my gripe with Cambodia's South Korean head coach, Lee Tae-Hoon, is why hasn't he picked the best players that Cambodia has at it's disposal. Anyone with any knowledge of Cambodian football will tell you that at least half a dozen players, who are amongst the country's best, are not in his squad for Wednesday's game. Even if Cambodia win, and they should, as they have home advantage and the teams are closely matched, on paper at least, it will not hide the fact that the coach is taking a huge risk with Cambodia's international future. The worrying comments coming out of the national coaching team are that they are not particularly interested in progressing in the World Cup and are looking ahead towards the SEA Games later this year (and the BIDC Cup before that). Why on earth they cannot seek to progress on both fronts is something that really pains me, and should pain all right-minded Cambodian football fans. During the coach's tenure we've already failed to reach the final stages of the Suzuki Cup and the Challenge Cup competitions. To ignore the likes of Khim Borey, currently playing in the Thai Premier League, as well as Keo Sokngorn and Chan Rithy, also plying their trade in the same neighbouring country, as well as home-based players like Sun Sovannrithy, San Narith, Chan Chaya, Sou Yaty and Oum Kumpheak amongst others, is something that many fans simply don't understand. Instead, with eyes firmly set on the SEA Games, the 25-man squad picked for Wednesday's match includes players who may or may not be okay at U-21 level in the future but are simply not good enough at full international level right now. Add to that, just 4 players have been selected from the C-league's top two teams, Phnom Penh Crown and Naga, and they all come from Crown, whilst the preparation for the game has been weak in the extreme with just one passable friendly against the Malaysian Olympic squad. That quite simply is not good enough as preparation for the important task of World Cup qualification, it's effectively treating the competition, and the fans with contempt.
The Cambodian 25-man squad is as follows: Preah Khan Reach (8) - Ouk Mic, Lay Raksmey, Sok Rithy, Khuon Laboravy, Tum Saray, Suon Veasna, Sam El Nasa, Prak Mony Udom; National Defense (5 ) - Oum Vichet, Pheak Rady, Soeung Chan Vanno, Phuong Soksana, Chin Chhoeurn; Phnom Penh Crown (4) - Tieng Tiny, Phoung Narong, Sun Sopanha, Kouch Sokumpheak; National Police (4) - Touch Pancharong, Say Piseth, Tith Dina; Kirivong (2) - In Vichhela, Sosa Nasiet; Prek Pra (2) - Mat Hasan, Sos Souhana.