Saturday, August 10, 2013

A real challenge

Sam Schweingruber speaks to the press after this morning's match
Sam Schweingruber is a busy football coach. Not only does he hold the reins at Phnom Penh Crown in the Metfone C-League but he's also in charge of the Cambodia women's team, is a FIFA coach instructor and next Sunday will be taking the Cambodia U-16 national youth team over to Myanmar to take part in the AFF U-16 Youth Championships. Earlier today he reduced the size of his squad to 22 players and will cut two more before the squad leaves these shores. In asking the head coach for his views on the forthcoming AFF Championships, we began with the make-up of his squad, which has an emphasis on players from his own Academy. "The quality of the PPCFC Academy, the first residential program in Cambodia, is obvious. The players have very good foundation and understand the basics. One of the big problems in Cambodia is the control of correct ages and Crown have spent a lot of time and energy selecting the best players at the right age. So to take players from the Crown Academy makes sense. We started the Cambodia Football Development League this season and the U-16 competition was open to players born 1997-2000. We didn't have time to do an extended check, so some players might even have been older. Svay Rieng, who won the title, had a majority of players born in 1997, so a year older than the U-16 national team is allowed to register. Svay Rieng played good physical football and didn't steal the victory in the final, but at the same time they were definitely not the stronger team when it comes to understanding and skill. The players we invited to try out for the national team turned out to be almost all over-age after careful investigation. Also the physical advantage of many players outside the Crown Academy cannot be matched with the deficits on skill and understanding. It's clear that the two teams with proper youth development at this stage are Svay Rieng and Crown."

What system will you employ with the U-16's in Myanmar? "We'll go with a system and try to fit in the players. 4-2-3-1 is how we play, but actually when we're without the ball it's more 4-4-1-1. In some moments of the game the individual players strengths and weaknesses will determine on how we play. A system is a way to organize a team on paper, what happens during the game is not dictated by the system, but how the individuals understand their role in the three key moments of the football game. We have 11 players involved in defending as I don't think we can afford to leave anybody on the pitch without responsibilities when we don't have the ball. If you call it 4-5-1 or 4-3-3 is not that important, the key is for each player to know what to be doing without the ball and how to support the team when we attack. Over the past month the team has shown improved defending against strong opposition but found it hard to score goals and this something we have to work on and improve.

The teams you face in Myanmar will be Australia, Brunei, Vietnam and the hosts Myanmar. What do you know about them and realistically, how good are our chances in this competition? "We know quite well what to expect when we face Australia in the opening game. They are following the Australian curriculum and have to play the Australian way - which is strongly influenced by Dutch football - so they will press us high up the pitch, man on man, etc, so we are working on getting ready for them. As for Brunei, we don't know much and unfortunately they will play their 1st game against us, so we can't watch them before. We have played 2 games against Vietnam's PVF Academy and learned more about their style of play, and they have ten players in the national team. The last game against Myanmar will be okay as I worked with their team last year at the Mandalay Academy and know how they want to play. We also know their coach well, Japanese coach Teshima who was here in Cambodia, and we know his ideas on how to play. We shall see..."

"The experience we gained from the recent Asean U-15 competition is huge. We are now more ready to play 2x45 minutes against strong teams and have also learned a lot of lessons from the different games. Our overall chances are not high. After only drawing twice in the Asean games over the last three months and losing eight matches, we know that we are playing acceptable football but struggle getting the results, often because of a physical mismatch. We get a lot of praise for our players, including how brave we try to play on many occasions, but in the end the results are what counts and that is going to be difficult. The AFF U-16s this year will be much more competitive than any games we've played so far. The regulations are the same as adult football as far as size of field, substitutions and playing time. So we know we are in for a real challenge." The head coach will likely announce his final 20-strong squad on Tuesday and the players will leave on Sunday 18th, with their opening match against Australia in Naypyidaw, the capital of Myanmar, two days later.

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