Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thinking ahead

In looking towards the future of Cambodian football, I think anyone with a brain knows that a structured grassroots program of developing young and talented individuals is the way forwards for any country. You have to get the youngsters early enough, drill good habits into them by coaches who know what they're doing alongwith an enjoyment of the game, and avoid the bad habits that the adult players of today never had the opportunity to avoid. This needs the combined efforts of the football federation in offering up a development plan for the future, an organized schools program that features sports as a key element of the school curriculum and professional clubs to set up and develop their own quality youth programs. We are a long way away from that structure in Cambodia at this moment in time. Currently, only one club has an academy, essentially spending money now building for the future as their goal, whilst some clubs have youth teams on the go, but the federation has no plan that anyone is aware of and the schools involvement is completely missing. Meanwhile, other countries are light years ahead of us. Take the Philippines as an example. With the help of the German FA, they are evaluating their own grassroots program and already training 8-year-olds from all over the country with the AFC Youth and World Championships of 2017 and 2019 in mind. What long term planning does the Cambodian federation have? None that anyone knows about. They tick boxes by holding annual championships at various age levels but they are pretty meaningless as age-cheating is rife and the winners are easy to pick before the competition begins. Much of the grassroots work is being done by groups such as Indochina Starfish and the SALT Academy, rather than the football federation, who should be at the helm of a fully integrated youth development program.

Even if the federation wake-up, join forces with the government and introduce a serious development plan for the future, that won't improve the sorry, sad state that our national team find themselves in at this time. I've already said my piece about the national team coach, so I won't discuss his failures of the last fifteen months again. Instead, how the heck do we turn the tide around and start improving our performances. Besides appointing a new coach, with the right credentials and experience, there are some options that we can consider. Our preparation has to improve, dramatically in my view. There is a dearth of suitably tough friendly matches, our players are not tested against the best the region has to offer, outside of competition, and games against local clubs or university sides from Korea simply don't cut the mustard. Malaysia for example, sent their U-23 squad to Slovakia for months on end and have reaped the rewards with a string of successes. This is something the federation have failed miserably to manage properly and need to improve in the future. They also need to think outside the box, instead of their predictable boot camps in Vietnam. Another avenue to bolster the make-up of the national team is to consider reinforcing the squad with foreign-based Cambodian nationals. I'm not talking about naturalizing players such as Singapore and Vietnam are prone to do, but taking a long, hard look at players with Khmer parentage, who are currently playing for teams in the Unites States, France and elsewhere. In recent months a few names have been banded about the internet, and I think the federation should bite the bullet, invite the best of them for trials with the national team and take it from there. They have nothing to lose and the fresh impetus from a handful of new faces should have a positive effect on the current national team squad. You might ask how the federation would pay for such extravagances, well, they receive substantial annual handouts from FIFA and of course sponsors like Metfone and don't have a grassroots program in place at the moment, so they must be awash with money.

Rubbing shoulders

Kouch Sokumpheak rubbing shoulders with Ronaldo on the cover of 855
The latest edition of 855 Sports Magazine is out today. The cover has two of the leading footballers of their era, Kouch Sokumpheak and Christiano Ronaldo on the front cover, with Phnom Penh Crown's Sokumpheak also featuring as the pull-out poster and in an article about his playing career. There's also a feature on David Booth, the PPCFC coach as well as articles on Naga Corp, Preah Khan Reach and many other local and international sports. This second edition has increased its page size to sixty pages and the price remains at 5,000 riels. It's Cambodia's first-ever glossy magazine devoted entirely to sport and published in the Khmer language.
An article on PPCFC's coach David Booth

Monday, November 28, 2011

Sovan oozes confidence

Sok Sovan in action against Malaysia in the recent SEA Games
Twenty-one year old central defender Sok Sovan is a man on a mission. To establish himself as a regular fixture in the Phnom Penh Crown team and to continue to play for his country, as he did in the recent SEA Games in Indonesia. Born in Phnom Penh and schooled at Bak Touk High School in the city, he initially signed with Khmer Empire in 2006 before they merged to become Phnom Penh Empire a year later. With appearances for the first-team restricted, he was loaned out to the National Police in 2010 and again to Neak Khiev at the start of last season in order to gain valuable experience. He'd already represented Cambodia in Malaysia's festival of football at U-14 level and then played all five matches in the AFC U-16 qualifiers in Indonesia in 2007, where the team acquitted themselves well, beating the hosts and drawing with Vietnam and Hong Kong.

Sovan started last season with some game time in the warm-up matches and in the early Hun Sen Cup ties before his three-game stint with Neak Khiev, who just failed to gain entry to the Metfone League. On his return, Crown coach Bojan Hodak went with more experienced heads and it was left to David Booth to give Sovan his chance at the back-end of last season's Championship-winning campaign. "I got my chance when other players were out through suspension. I was very pleased to get the opportunity to show what I could do, having sat on the bench all season long. I felt fit and strong, very relaxed and happy to show my ability in such important matches for the club." David Booth selected him for the crunch game against Naga and Sovan did well enough to keep his place for the final game of the season against Preah Khan. "I felt confident, fit and keen to play well. They were important games for Crown, the type of games I want to be involved in, week-in, week-out."

Following two friendly matches against the Cambodia U-23s and two substitute appearances in the AFC President's Cup final stages in Taiwan for Crown, Sovan was called into the Cambodian SEA Games squad and played three games in the BIDC Cup and another friendly against Nepal. "I was extremely happy to get the call. I've been in the national team at U-16s but this was for the SEA Games. I felt proud to represent my country at such a prestigious competition. The national coach had faith in me and I have faith in him." Sovan played every minute of the four SEA Games matches played by Cambodia, alongside the vastly experienced Sok Rithy at the heart of the defence, though Cambodia lost each of their matches. "I was happy with my own performances but as a team we didn't do as well as we'd hoped. It was a great experience, playing against such strong teams and to be honest, there wasn't a big difference between us and the other countries. If we can train together as much as they do, I believe we can get a lot closer to them. We had a good team spirit amongst the players, we were proud to represent our country and I hope to be able to do it again." Predictably Sovan is looking forward to the new season. "I've got a lot more self confidence now, after that run of matches. I feel I've improved my game and I can't wait to get started again. I want to be part of a winning team and Phnom Penh Crown are definitely the best club in Cambodia. We have the best coach, the best players, the best facilities, everything to make us the top team. Now we have to go out and prove it again next season."

An outside view

Click on fake shirts, pitch brawls and cheap beer for a visitor's view on their first and last Cambodian football match at the Olympic Stadium. They obviously attended the Phnom Penh Crown v National Police match in early August, so it's taken the author quite a while to write up his story. Nevertheless, he got it right when he said Crown were the best team in the country.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Double Crown triumph

The Crown Champions League team collecting their winning prize
The mixed Premier League team line up for their prize-giving
The RSN Stadium at Tuol Kork was the venue for the start of the third Barclays Capital Indochina Starfish Foundation football league today with five pitches awash with boys and girls football matches throughout the day. The age groups were U-10s and U-14s as well as U-18 girls and the matches also included a team of deaf players from Krousar Thmey amongst the 46 teams taking part. I spoke to a lot of players from the teams who converged on the RSN Stadium and they all said how much they loved playing the games, whether they win or lose. It was so refreshing and a tribute to the work done by the ISF folks with squads from NGO’s, orphanages and schools making up the majority of the teams. The home team, Phnom Penh Crown entered two teams in the U-14 Champions and Premier Leagues, and they both won their respective championships on the day. With all games twenty minutes in duration, it was 7-a-side and the Champions team for Crown were all Academy boys. They beat Komar Athyreach 5-0, Preah Khan Reach 3-1, got a bye in the quarter-final and then beat Sunrise Kandal 2-0 in the semi. With two goals from Mat Sakrovy they then overcame Maruhan Japan Bank/PSE 2-0 in the final. Their passing was crisp and quick, each player played unselfishly and they always had enough gas in the tank to beat their opponents. For Crown's Premier team, it was a mix of Academy and non-Academy boys, including four U-10s. They found it a bit tougher but still won through to the Premier final, where they beat the ISF Flying Tigers team on penalties, with Svang Samnang netting the winning spot-kick after making two saves as his team's keeper. The day's winning teams in the boys and girls league were presented with their prizes of soft drinks and biscuits and will carry on with the championships every week between now and March at the same venue.
The winning teams in each grouping await their prizes
Theang Chhaya (20) heads the line for the Crown Champions League team
Mat Sakrovy scores one of his two goals in the final
The starting Champions League team in the final v PSE. Back Row: Sakrovy, Sopheak, Chanpolin, Titchhy. Front Row: Chansopheak, Sodavid, Muslim
The ISF keeper saves Nop David's penalty in the Premier League final
The Crown Champions league team in the semi-final v Sunrise Kandal
Penalty kicks decided this girls game after the teams drew. The games are played to a result.
This Crown Champions League team beat Preah Khan Reach 3-1
Mat Sakrovy on target again in the 5-0 win over Komar Athyreach
The Crown Champions League team beat Komar Athyreach 5-0 in the opening game
Instructions for the Crown teams from the coaching staff

Friday, November 25, 2011

The FFC view

In an interview with the Football Federation of Cambodia's spokesman, May Tola, in today's Phnom Penh Post, it's clear that the FFC have absolutely no intention of changing the man in charge of the Cambodian national team, Lee Tae-Hoon, who has presided over a litany of disappointing results and early exits from all competitions since he took over fifteen months ago. In explaining the Federation's position, Tola effectively said the FFC know what they are doing, they have the experience and the knowledge, they are fully responsible, they won't listen to public opinion or what he called 'non-technical people's opinions' and that Lee is suitably qualified in technical and player management skills. He said that FFC have no reason to replace the coach and that, in their view, the team is improving.
Though you wouldn't expect him to say anything less, as the FFC are the ones who employed the South Korean coach, albeit the Korean FA pay the man's salary, and who recently gave him an extension to his contract through to July 2012. They simply don't have the balls to admit they made a big mistake in giving the job to someone with the absolute minimum of coaching experience - two spells as assistant coach of the Korean women's team - and who has spent the last fifteen months treading water. I challenge the FFC spokesman to explain exactly how the national team's performances are improving. They look tactically naive, players are played out of position, key players have been ignored, tossed aside or benched, fitness has overshadowed mental toughness and tactical nous, and there is no obvious indication that we are moving in the right direction. Meanwhile, we see countries at our level improving their results and leaving us behind in their wake. But it seems, the FFC are happy to back their choice of coach to the hilt, in the face of mounting criticism from the kingdom's football-loving public.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

New blood required

You could hear a pin drop since Lee Tae-Hoon returned from the SEA Games debacle
It's been nearly two weeks since Cambodia's national football coach, Lee Tae-Hoon returned from Jakarta with an ignominious SEA Games record of played 4, lost 4, scored 2, conceded 16, points zero. And that's after the national coaching set-up had publicly stated their key focus this year was squarely on achieving success in the SEA Games, over and above any potential success in the World Cup qualifying rounds or any other competition for that matter. Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out did it. But anyone with the slightest awareness of football in the region could've forecast what took place. All of our rivals bust a gut to do well in the SEA Games. They raise their level of performance and intensity. So a blind monkey could've predicted we'd get thumped and we did. The fact is that neither the full national team or the U-23s that played in Indonesia are in any better shape than when the ex-South Korean women's team assistant coach took over 15 months ago. Anyone could've achieved what he's managed, getting knocked out of every competition at the first hurdle. And yet the Federation have remained silent as a mouse since the SEA Games debacle. Not a peep from the people who gave him the job and who pledged their faith in him. They even renewed that commitment with a new twelve month contract a while back and yet we continue to lose ground to every other country in Southeast Asia whilst Lee is at the helm. Cambodia needs new blood, someone with the experience, motivational skills and coaching nous to pick us up by the scruff of the neck, give us a good shaking and take us into a new era. Keeping the current incumbent in his post is not the answer. We now have just under a year before we face our next big international test, qualifying for the AFF Suzuki Cup next October. If the Federation bite the bullet and accept the inevitable sooner rather than later, that will give a new man a fair crack of the whip in terms of moulding the team into what he wants. If we continue as we are, we are doomed to continue to lose touch with our nearest rivals, however much effort our players put into it. We need a new man in charge now.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

1st-ever sports magazine

The front cover of 855 Sports Magazine
The first edition of the brand new, first-ever Cambodian magazine dedicated solely to sport is out on the streets of Phnom Penh, and available from many of the roadside newspaper vendors you see around the city. In fact the second, expanded edition is due out on 25 Nov. With a 5,000 print run of the first edition, the team behind 855 Sports Magazine are keen to make an impression on the sports-loving Cambodian public - the magazine is in the Khmer language - and with its glossy look, middle-page poster pull-out and wide coverage of different sports, they have made a grand entrance into the magazine market. The football-playing prime minister makes the front cover and football gets the lion's share of coverage inside the mag with 20 out of the 48 pages. There's a focus on Phnom Penh Crown, the Cambodian national team and on the Crown Academy, including a feature on one of it's young stars, Vat Samnang. The SEA Games, golf, tennis, boxing and motor sports are also covered, though the text is a little sparse in places as the magazine is pretty rich in photographs. The cover price is 5,000 riels though I believe it may drop to 4,000 for the second edition. This is a first for Cambodian sports fans, their own dedicated magazine published every two weeks covering both local and international sports stories. Now it's up to the magazine team to strive to improve their content and for the public to support them by buying the magazine on a regular basis.
A feature on Vat Samnang, from the Crown Academy

Monday, November 14, 2011

Groin goes pop

PPCFC Academy boys and staff play for fun...and pain!
I experienced the Phnom Penh Crown Academy boys at close quarters yesterday afternoon, as we held a series of friendly matches, with members of the Crown staff allocated to teams of half a dozen Academy boys and playing round-robin matches of twenty minutes each. At 52, being left on your backside by a side-stepping thirteen year old is not good for your ego I can tell you. And then to cap it all, in the final game I stretched for a ball I should've known better to leave alone, and my groin went pop. I hobbled off to leave my team one man short and we lost the final. I couldn't apologise enough. After a BBQ with everyone involved to end the evening, I headed for home, my groin freezing cold from the ice being applied, and vowing to finally call it a day. I should know better than to try and mix it with the stars of Cambodia's footballing future.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

SEA Games mis-adventures

Cam U23s v Malaysia. Back Row LtoR: Sovan, Rithy, Soksana, Rady, Sothearath, Laboravy. Front Row: Pancharong, Yaty, Raksmey, Souhana, Chhoeun
There's not much more to say that I haven't said already about Cambodia's SEA Games football mis-adventures. Cambodia came unstuck again, as expected, in their final Group A match of the Jakarta-based SEA Games this afternoon, losing 4-1 to reigning champions Malaysia. Playing their 4th game in the space of seven days, Chhin Chhoeun netted a consolation for Cambodia on the hour, after Malaysia went in 3-nil up at the break - with Sok Rithy having a nightmare at the back - and then added another on full-time when Prak Mony Udom failed to clear his lines. So that's 2 goals in 4 matches for Cambodia, both by Chhoeun, whilst they conceded 16 goals at the other end. Lee Tae-Hoon, Cambodia's Korean coach, selected Sou Yaty between the sticks and stuck with his defensive-minded midfield with an extra defender added for comfort. Conceding a goal after just seven minutes sank his plan, yet again.
Lee's words of infinite wisdom on the team's performances in the competition are worth nothing. "The campaign was not a total loss. The players have been learning from game to game and I think that they are better players as compared to when they first came to Jakarta. I believe that this team can only get stronger and they will definitely be better at the next SEA Games in 2013." Well, we all hope the team will get stronger of course, but I hope that Lee isn't suggesting that he stays in charge for the next SEA Games, as that would be disastrous. He's had his time at the helm, it's now time to hand the baton to someone more experienced and capable. I fully expect the Federation to see sense and end the Korean experiment, which is their 2nd attempt at it, and both have been as unsuccessful as each other. The positives from the four defeats are that the players who did play will benefit from the international experience, though players like Soun Veasna and Keo Sokngorn, who spent most of their time on the bench, were under-utilised by the coach and he has to answer for that. In fact, he has to answer for the last 14 months of poor results, as I've said ad nauseam.
Cam U23s v Malaysia: Yaty, Raksmey, Rady, Sovan, Rithy, Pancharong (Pheng 47), Sothearath, Chhoeun (PM Udom 84), Souhana (Saray 20), Laboravy, Soksana. Subs not used: Vichet, Daravorn, Phearith, Veasna, Dalin, Sokngorn.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Look of resignation

Time to face the music for Lee Tae-Hoon
The look on the face of Lee Tae-Hoon, the national coach of Cambodia, at the final whistle of yesterday's 4-0 SEA Games defeat to Thailand, said it all. He looked glum and weary after another of his tactical howlers came unstuck. Thailand let Cambodia off the hook with just the four goals, the scoreline could've been a lot worse as Lee's attempts to restrict his opponents came undone at the seams. His decision to play an extra defender in a five-man midfield was horribly exposed as Pancharong was given the runaround and his midfield colleagues, Saray and Souhana were conspicuous by their complete absence from the action. Playing a five-man midfield can work with the right personnel but Lee's choices came back to haunt him again, much as they did in the previous matches against Indonesia and Singapore. The South Korean coach, who came into the competition on the back of a catalogue of disastrous results in his 14 months in charge, finally gave Keo Sokngorn a starting place against Thailand but had seen enough by half-time to take him off. That was after the Kratie-born youngster was given 20 minutes and 2 minutes against Indonesia and Singapore respectively. Sokngorn is one of two players in the Cambodian squad who can single-handedly turn a match, Khuon Laboravy is the other, but under Lee's reign, he doesn't know whether he's coming or going and coupled with a foot injury that required injections just before the SEA Games began, Sokngorn's presence has been wasted. Lee did the same to Khim Borey a while back, calling him up for matches and then sitting him in the stand and on the bench, and then incredulously failed to invite him to Jakarta for this competition. Without his attacking talent, Cambodia have looked toothless in front of goal and another selection clanger has come home to roost. Lee instead opted for Phoung Soksana and Laboravy as his main attacking threats, though Laboravy's two yellow cards aginst Singapore, meant he sat out yesterday's game. On his own, Soksana looked lost and woefully short of international pedigree, as did too many in the Cambodian line-up yesterday. I feel for Soun Veasna, who had a good season for Preah Khan Reach last term but under Lee has merited just a 2 minute cameo in this SEA Games so far. With Chhun Sothearath suspended, I would've thought Veasna, or the lesser-able Pov Phearith, would get the nod. But Lee had other ideas. He doesn't even trust his own players in their normal positions, instead giving defender Touch Pancharong the holding role in the middle of the park. Decisions like that smack of desperation and that's basically where Lee has arrived at in his management of the national team. He now has to select a line-up to face the reigning champions Malaysia on Sunday. He should make the most of it because it should be his last as the national coach, either by way of falling on his own sword and admitting enough is enough, being withdrawn by his paymasters (the Korean FA) or the Cambodian federation calling time on their misguided appointment of 14 months ago.

Friday, November 11, 2011

... and again

Cam U-23s v Thailand: Back Row LtoR: Raksmey, Vichet, Rady, Sokngorn, Sovan, Rithy. Front Row: Saray, Pancharong, Soksana, Souhan, Chhoeun
We have to face facts, the Cambodian team is simply not equipped, tactically, mentally and physically, to mix it with the best in Southeast Asia. That was again demonstrated in this afternoon's match with Thailand in the SEA Games Group A. I only watched the second half on live stream on my lap-top and aside from a header by substitute Sok Pheng and a free-kick by Prak Mony Udom, both of which forced the Thai keeper into tip-over saves, it was all one-way traffic for the whole game. Thailand ran out easy 4-0 winners. Keeper Um Vichet, in for the injured Sou Yaty, did well to keep the scoreline down with a few fine stops and the woodwork saved further embarrassment on at least three occasions. Cambodia couldn't hang onto the ball and there were too many anonymous players on the park - particularly Souhana, Pancharong, Saray and Soksana - leaving Thailand to have the lion share of possession and frequently pressing the Cambodian backline in numbers. If you face that much pressure you will concede goals, as Cambodia did. I didn't agree with coach Lee Tae-Hoon's starting line-up or his substitutions for that matter, but it mattered not a jot. Whatever team he selected from his squad would've found it hard going, after suspensions ruled out Khuon Laboravy, Chhun Sothearath and injury left Yaty off the pitch. The players looked jaded as the 2nd half wore on and you've got to believe that a similar scoreline is likely when they meet Malaysia on Sunday in their final match. I fear the worst. I fully expect that match to be the final game of Lee Tae-Hoon's stint as the national coach. He's had 14+ months to get his act together and the team simply shows no sign of improvement. Time for a new broom to sweep clean. It's up to the federation to make it happen and to put both Lee and the Cambodian football public out of their misery.
Cam U-23s v Thailand: Vichet, Rady, Raksmey, Rithy, Sovan, Pancharong, Saray (PM Udom 66), Sokngorn (Pheng 46), Souhana, Chhoeun (Dalin 70), Soksana. Subs not used: Yaty, Daravorn, Phearith, Veasna. Suspended: Laboravy, Sothearath.
Cambodia's stand-in skipper Sok Rithy (3) tries to stem the Thai flood

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Cambodia crash

Cam U-23s v Singapore. Lost 2-1. Back Row LtoR: Laboravy, Sovan, Sothearath, Soksana, Raksmey, Rithy. Front Row: Saray, Souhan, Yaty, Chhoeun, Pancharong
I'm just in the door after six days away and catching up on the SEA Games results. Obviously I'm disappointed that Cambodia have begun the competition with two defeats but am I surprised, obviously not. The 6-0 thrashing by Indonesia on Monday was to be expected, with the home team on a high at the start of their competition and in front of a sell-out crowd. They whipped in four goals in a 15-minute spell in the 1st half and that was game over. Lee Tae-Hoon decided to start with the inexperienced Sos Souhana, leaving Keo Sokngorn and Sok Pheng on the bench. In goal he went with Sou Yaty, whilst Pheak Rady got the nod over Lay Raksmey at full back. Aside from Chhun Sothearath, the midfield looked lightweight in the extreme and Indonesia must've thought Christmas had come early. Last night Cambodia played their 2nd match in the Group of Death - Group A and lost out 2-1 to Singapore after taking the lead with a flukey cross from Chhin Chhoeun that sailed over the head of the goalkeeper and in at the far post on 35 minutes. At least Cambodia will go home with a goal in their goals scored column if little else. As you'd expect, Singapore rallied in the 2nd half and netted twice to sink Cambodia's hopes of a surprise result. To add to their misery, skipper Khuon Laboravy got a 2nd yellow card and a red one to boot in the final minute. The only change that Lee Tae-Hoon made to his starting line-up was bringing in Raksmey for Rady. Cambodia play Thailand tomorrow (Friday) at 5pm in the third of their four matches. I would expect the coach to make changes, to at least start with Sokngorn, or what was the point in taking him in the first place. I'd also give starts to Soun Veasna and Sok Pheng, in place of Souhana and Soksana, and Yaty needs a rest after picking the ball out of the net 8 times in two games, so Um Vichet should get the nod this time around. Thailand lost 2-1 to Malaysia in their only game so far, so they'll be gunning for a win from the first whistle tomorrow, so Cambodia's tactics will need to reflect that.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Final 20

Will this be the starting line-up on Monday? I hope not.
The Cambodian U-23 squad list of 20 players for the SEA Games has finally seen the light of day, with the players travelling to Jakarta tomorrow and meeting Indonesia in their first match on Monday. The players to get the nod from South Korean head coach Lee Tae-Hoon are as follows:
Goalkeepers: Sou Yaty, Um Vichet.
Defenders: Sok Sovan, Sok Rithy, Lay Raksmey, Pheak Rady, Moul Daravorn, Touch Pancharong, Samuth Dalin.
Midfield: Suon Veasna, Pov Phearith, Chhun Sothearath, Tum Saray, Prak Monu Udom, Chin Chhoeurn, Sos Souhana, Phoung Soksana.
Strikers: Sok Pheng, Khuon Laboravy, Keo Sokngorn.
Do I agree with the coaches' final pick? As far as it goes, most of them pick themselves with the exception of half a dozen players, who I don't believe will cut the mustard at this level of international competition. My gut feeling is that we will end up getting thumped by all four of our opponents. I sincerely hope that won't happen, but I wouldn't bet against it. You need tactical nous at this level of high octane regional rivalry and I don't believe the coach possesses anywhere near enough to prevent his team being handed a footballing lesson or four. Indonesia are first up, followed by Singapore, Thailand and then reigning football champions Malaysia; all four of them are desperate for regional success and all four will expect to beat Cambodia comprehensively at this level. If I had to select the starting XI from the 20-man squad then I would go for: Yaty, Raksmey, Rady, Sovan, Rithy, Veasna, Sothearath, PM Udom, Sokngorn, Laboravy, Pheng.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Under pressure

I've heard from Sok Sovan today that he and Phnom Penh Crown teammate Sok Pheng are both included in the final party of 20 players selected for the Cambodian U-23 squad for the forthcoming SEA Games in Indonesia. The team travel to Jakarta on Saturday and face their first big hurdle when they meet the hosts, Indonesia, on Monday. There have been lots of financial inducements bounded about for the Cambodian participants in the SEA Games who come home with medals from NagaWorld and the Prime Minister chipping in as well, though that is very unlikely to happen with the football team. They are ranked well below most of the countries competing in this month's Games and are pretty much guaranteed to finish bottom of the 'Group of Death,' Group A, unless there's a series of minor miracles in their matches against Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. It ain't gonna happen. Even the Phnom Penh Post, known for their fence-sitting, came out of their hole in the ground to heap a bit more pressure on Lee Tae-Hoon, Cambodia's national team coach, on their back page today. PPP's Indian sports writer Manju admits Lee has been less successful than the coach had hoped and had been unable to get the best out of his team. With Cambodia's series of inept results during Lee's tenure over the last 14 months, I'd call that a gross understatement. Neverthless, Manju reckons that Lee is determined to answer his critics and prove his detractors wrong. Well, this writer is all for that. Bringing home the SEA Games gold medal would be just dandy. The PPP journo also talks about the World Cup defeat in Laos and suggests that 'the controversy rumbled on in another form when armchair critics and self styled experts pounced on him with accusations of playing down the significance of World Cup qualifiers.' Bollocks. The Cambodian camp had said well before the Laos games that the SEA Games were the target and the World Cup was basically an inconvenience. You don't have to be an armchair critic or self styled expert to point out that those sort of ill-informed comments fly in the face of every football fan in the country and anyone who has an interest in the beautiful game. Success in the World Cup, however fleeting, is something to treasure and should not be derided in favour of a regional competition, in which you know you will get badly mauled anyway. I've never been a big fan of Manju's reporting style and his sneer at anyone who dares to comment on local football or the national team takes the biscuit as he and the PPP rarely climb from underneath their rock with any opinion piece worthy of the name when it comes to football. They are usually far too busy with the tennis.
The final 20-man selection should be published tomorrow. With the Group A games taking place on the following dates, I will most likely be out of internet range for all of them except the final game, so I apologise beforehand for not providing my usual service when it comes to crucial games and especially national team games. I'll be on an island in the middle of the Mekong River.
Cambodia's SEA Games schedule:
7 Nov Indonesia v Cambodia at 7pm
9 Nov Singapore v Cambodia at 7pm
11 Nov Thailand v Cambodia at 5pm
13 Nov Malaysia v Cambodia at 4pm

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The waiting game

The Crown squad and staff wait to collect their AFC President's Cup runners-up medals in Taiwan
We are still awaiting the outcome of the AFC investigation into the circumstances of the last few moments of the AFC President's Cup between Phnom Penh Crown and the hosts, Taiwan Power Company. The match was played on 25 September and the AFC have had access to the referee's report and the television footage by the local tv station, as well as reports and statements from both clubs. The punishment for the three Crown players red-carded for pushing referee Marai Mohammed Alawaji from Saudi Arabia after he failed to award a nailed-on penalty in injury-time, remains to be seen, as does any disciplinary fall-out from the fighting that took place at the final whistle between both camps. There's no point in speculating what the AFC might do until they reach their conclusion. However, there was a somewhat similar incident with players and officials brawling in the full glare of the television cameras, in a recent AFC Champions League match, and the disciplinary committee issued a six-game ban on two coaches and a player after handing out 1 match suspensions to a handful of others.