Cambodian football league finally getting under way. The Metfone-sponsored C-League will kick-off at 2pm with last season's runners-up Naga Corp taking on the National Police. Naga will be without their 4 close season signings (Sun Sovannrithy, Thul Sothearith, San Narith, Sun Sopanha) from Phnom Penh Crown as they are all suspended but they could be strengthened by their three new Nigerian imports, Badmus Bolaji, Ajetunmobi Kunle and Nofiu Lawal, if their ITC's and work permits have come through. Their top scorer last term with 28 goals, Julius Oiboh, who so nearly took Naga to the title all on his own, is expected to play his football in Thailand this time around. I just hope the Police manage to stay on the pitch to see the game out as they have a nasty habit of walking when the going gets tough. The champions, Phnom Penh Crown would've been expected to start the season off, but as the federation want them to play Preah Khan Reach, and as the Military Police team are in Malaysia playing in their FA Cup, then that mouthwatering league game has been put back until Wednesday 21 March.
The 2nd match up tomorrow, at 4pm, is Kirivong against the new faces of Boeung Ket Rubber Field FC, or the Rubbermen as I'll call them this season. With ex-Crown manager Be Makara at the helm, the Kompong Cham-based team have been busy bees in the transfer market signing a host of players who were plying their trade in Thailand last term. They include ex-Crown men Keo Sokngorn, Srey Veasna, Friday Nwakuna and Chan Rithy as well as Sin Dalin and Ly Ravy. They've also picked up Peng Bunchhay, Takahito Ota and Hong Ratana after their release by Crown, as well as other well-known local like Oum Kumpheak, Touch Pancharong and Lar Pichseyla. Add three Nigerians, Bisan George, Sumaila Momoh and Daniel Omachoko to the mix and you have an interesting-looking squad. They should be a force to be reckoned with if they can get their star men firing on all cylinders. Sunday's matches see Chhlam Samuth face BBU and the Army against Western University.
Talking of the Army, they appear to be sticking their oar in again concerning any player that dares to have the temerity to seek his footballing fortunes elsewhere. We have already seen the shambolic situation in the Hun Sen Cup a few weeks ago when the federation initially allowed Khim Borey (Crown) and Sin Dalin (Boeung Ket) to play in the competition and then mysteriously closed the door on them after the Army rattled their cage. Both players were left twiddling their thumbs in the stands and their respective coaches fuming at the FFC's decision. After that, the word from the federation was that both players would be okay to play in the C-League, but more sabre-rattling from the Army has again cast that in doubt. The Phnom Penh Post carried a preview of their opening game today and allegations by the Army's former coach even expanded the situation into something rather more sinister and serious. Commenting on an exodus of players that includes Pheak Rady, Oum Kumpheak and Touch Sokheng, Op Sam An suggested they may find difficulty in playing for new clubs as they are still registered military officials and had fled the club when accused of match-fixing. "It is destroying soccer [in the country] and the whole club." As to what the former coach is alluding to is not public knowledge, though a handful of players were suspended by the Army for alleged match-fixing some three years ago. Rather than cast a slur on the reputation of professional players who want to leave the Army club, Op Sam An needs to front up with any evidence he has of players involved in rigging matches, or ask the federation to investigate, or shut up. I would also expect the Phnom Penh Post to follow-up on his allegations to see whether this stain on football has found its way into the Cambodian game, as it has elsewhere in Asia. If it is proved that any player or any club is guilty of such action, the federation and the AFC should throw the book at them. If the allegations are false, anybody crying wolf should be severely censured.
After the debacle of the Cambodia U-21 (+ overage players) showing in the Brunei tournament over the past week, with four defeats in four games, two of which were against sides that we should've beaten with our eyes closed and our legs tied together, the 18-strong playing party have returned to these shores to link up, rather belatedly, with their domestic teams. Hardly ideal preparation for the start of the new C-League, and an example of the way football is administered in these parts. Also missing a month of preparation have been members of the AFC A Licence coaching course that has been taking place locally. Many of the 26 participants are with C-League teams like Army, Police, Boeung Ket and BBU and Naga's head coach, Prak Sovannara was the main instructor. It's frightening really, the timing of such a course when you look at the country's footballing schedule. Last but not least, the C-League games will be screened live by a new television channel this season. Apsara have taken over from TVK, who took over from CTN last season. It appears that TVK are more interested in political matters this year than football. The first league match every Saturday and Sunday will be beamed live into homes by Apsara.