Sunday, October 9, 2011

The big kick-off

Cambodia Lining up for the handshakes. LtoR: Tum Saray, Chin Chhoeurn, Sou Yaty, Khuon Laboravy
LtoR: Sok Sovan, Lay Raksmey, Touch Pancharong, Phuong Soksana, Tum Saray
LtoR: Chhun Sothearath, Sok Rithy, Pov Phearith, Sok Sovan
The MRYUIFTBIDC Cup got underway yesterday - isn't that the most ridiculously long acronym you've come across for a football tournament, a simple Mekong BIDC Cup would suffice - and the locals will be cockahoop with their 2-0 win over Laos in the opening game, although those watching it won't be so happy that they got soaked to the skin. Admittedly, it's an U-21 competition and a 23 year old, Khuon Laboravy, dominated the match, whilst Laos fielded their teenage side that has just competed, unsuccessfully, in the AFF U-19 championship. The winners of that competition, Thailand, have also sent their U-19 team along to compete in the BIDC Cup, as have beaten finalists Vietnam. Myanmar, who were fourth in the tournament that they hosted two weeks ago, have likely done the same. The Chinese provincial club Hongxiang team didn't exactly win any fans with some of their intimidating behaviour at the end of their 1-1 draw with Vietnam in the second match. The Cambodian referee, Tuy Vichhika, came in for some considerable stick from the Chinese players and coaches and needed a police escort into his changing room.
Cambodian fans will be disappointed not to have seen their former darling Keo Sokngorn get any game time yesterday. He's been wowing the local fans of Samut Sakhon in Thailand this season and was brought back for this competition and to take part in the SEA Games. However, an ankle injury ruled him out yesterday and the coach Lee Tae-Hoon didn't want to risk aggravating it. Lee also told the after-match press conference of myself and two Khmer cameramen that despite Sou Yaty playing well against Laos, that Um Vichet would get the nod for Wednesday's game against Myanmar. Both players are used to this type of rotation, as it replicates what happens for their Army club side. For Phnom Penh Crown followers, Sok Sovan got his first taste of more senior national team action, he'd previously played for the U-16s, alongside the dependable Sok Rithy, and performed well making some crucial interceptions and blocks when Laos got into dangerous positions. Sok Pheng got a run up-front for the last 16 minutes and made his presence felt, winning the free-kick from which Laboravy netted Cambodia's second goal. However, the water on the pitch surface meant any meaningful football went out of the window after an hour of the game. The Laos coach compared it to a "swimming pool and the game should've been stopped by the referee," and complained that the match official had sought the advice of the captains instead of the respective coaches, about whether to continue the game or not. In truth, Cambodia already had their noses in front by the time the rains came, though I must admit the surface water made a mockery of the game and I agree that the game should've been postponed.
The guest of honour at yesterday's games was deputy prime minister Sok An, who gave an address to the massed ranks of schoolchildren and boy scouts sat in the grandstand and in the open areas of the ground (which they came to regret midway through the Cambodia match when the rains came with a vengeance). Attendance estimates were between 30,000 and 35,000. It's a no-brainer to invite schoolkids to these big events, you get the bums on seats, you get the noise (albeit mostly high-pitched screaming) and it makes the players feel good too. And to cap it all, Cambodia won.
Skipper Khuon Laboravy leads out his Cambodian teammates in red
Sok Sovan (4) steps out with Sok Rithy and Chhun Sothearath for his U-21 debut
PPCFC's Sok Pheng, on the sub's bench, before the game begins
The Cambodian team listen to the national anthem before the match begins
Swapping pennants with the captains prior to the toss-up
A look at the sizeable crowd in the main grandstand

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