Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Heading for Reap

We are fast approaching that time of year when Hanuman throws it's annual staff party for its many teams and a few invited guests. Tomorrow, we'll bus up to Siem Reap and then spend the next day on what we call a fam trip where the staff get to visit some of the places we encourage our clients to visit. This time around we'll visit Kbal Spean, the Landmine Museum and take a boat trip out onto the Tonle Sap Lake. The next morning will be a whistle-stop inspection tour of about half a dozen hotels for the sales team and then Saturday night is the party, which'll be held at our small boutique hotel, HanumanAlaya. The morning after the night before will be a trip to the Puok Silk Farm and then it's a bus back to Phnom Penh in time to start back to work first thing Monday morning. That will mean I'm in Siem Reap for New Year's Eve, so if anyone has a spare party invitation, I'm available.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Anyone missing a lintel?

This partial lintel at Prasat Phimai sits in a quiet corner of the complex. It shows Krishna suduing the serpent Kaliya.
In a quiet northwest corner of the first enclosure at Prasat Phimai is a mini-storage dump of architectural items that the Thai authorities didn't find a home for when they reconstructed the temple in the 1960s. In fact I came across this open-air storage section, as well as a depository for a bunch of lintels and the forgotten corner full of sandstone dvarapula antefixes, which I showed you in an earlier post. The mix-n-match dump contained a variety of objects, whilst the lintel collection - containing at least a dozen lintels, some in good condition, others very badly worn, which the conservation team found on site but couldn't find their original locations and so kept them all together - are now housed on a raised platform to the west of the central sanctuary. Worth a look, if like me, you love your lintels.
This is not a collection of cluster bombs, but architectural decorations that can be found on top of enclosure walls
A mini dump of architectural items such as lintels, nagas and pilasters in a quiet corner
A worn lintel of Krishna riding on Garuda
This unfinished lintel is of a kala and double rows of floral vegetation
A massive elephant, a horse and various figures provide the detail on this partial lintel which may've originally shown Krishna fighting the elephant
This vivid lintel shows Rama armed with a bow and arrow, taking on eight demons
Above a row of hamsas appear a group of important courtiers with a royal personage in the center
This raised platform to the west hosts about a dozen lintels of varying descriptions and conditions

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Watch out, there's a monk about

Two monks obligingly pose for a portrait in a doorway at Prasat Phimai
My brother Tim and I were quite fortunate when we visited Prasat Phimai in Isaan a couple of months ago, as we got in just as a large group of Eastern Europeans arrived and we managed to keep ahead of them throughout our leisurely visit though we did keep bumping into a small group of monks. The Buddhist monks were far friendlier than the Europeans and a lot quieter. Apart from those two groups, Tim and I were pretty much on our own aside from a friendly sweeper, who got in a couple of my photos.
Lights, camera, action!
Taking a picture of a monk taking a picture of a monk at Phimai
Temple visit concluded, time for a rest in the shade of the central sanctuary
One last team photo before the monks hit the road
A sweeper at Prasat Phimai, one of the tidiest temples I've ever visited. You could've eaten your dinner off the floor!

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Monday, December 28, 2009

HAGL invests in Cambodia's future

If you weren't aware of it before, make no mistake that the Vietnamese are taking big steps to increase their influence in the sporting arena in both Cambodia and Laos. On my recent visit to Vientiane for the SEA Games, it was obvious to me that Vietnam were using the current inability of Thailand to present any sort of unified front, to step up their presence in Laos and exert a far-reaching influence that is not just confined to sport. The Vietnamese company Hoang Anh Gia Lai Group were the main benefactors by way of a $4 million gift for the construction of the SEA Games athletes' village. They also funded three months of training by the Laos U23 football team in the central highlands province of Gia Lai, as well as paying the salary of the Laos coach Alfred Riedl. Of course, they haven't done it out of the goodness of their own heart - the group have inked commercial deals in Laos that include mining and timber concessions. The Hoang Anh Gia Lai conglomerate have branched out from its original base in rubber plantations in Vietnam's highlands to include interests in real estate, hotels, and other industries. The head of HAGL, Doan Nguyen Duc, known as Bau (Big Boss) Duc, is believed to be the richest man in Vietnam. Hoang Anh is his daughter's name, Gia Lai his modest home base in the highlands.

HAGL's next major sporting investment is geared towards improving Cambodia's national football team. They have pledged $4 million towards the construction of the new national football center to be built in the Bati district of Takeo. They have also offered to help prepare the national team for the Suzuki Cup later next year as well as provide coaches for the country's youth team. Don't forget that HAGL, who operate a football academy in association with Arsenal, were the beaten finalists in the BIDC Cup in Phnom Penh a couple of months ago. At the same time HAGL have expressed their intentions to invest in rubber, mining, and electricity, in addition to their existing iron ore concessions they already have in Cambodia. You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours seems to be the order of the day as HAGL and Vietnam continue their expansion plans. The football federation here already have Vietnam-based Metfone on board as one of their main sponsors for the coming season.

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Faces of Phimai

This rishi, or wise man, at Prasat Phimai has a large head and much smaller body by comparison; he almost looks like an elf
Here are a gallery of faces you can find at Prasat Phimai in Isaan in northeast Thailand, if you divert your attention to the foot of the doorways. Whilst most people, including myself, concentrate on the lintels and pediments above the doorway, there are some lovely carvings to be found at ground level too. One of the consistent decorative features that adorn the doorways are the sculpted cavings at the base of the colonettes and pilasters that form the side panels to the doorframes. It is believed that these carvings on the pilasters began at Phimai at the end of the 11th century before spreading to the temples at Angkor. Of course the representation of rishis, or wise men, at the foot of the circular colonettes can also be seen widely throughout Angkor, especially at Angkor Wat. Here are a few examples from Prasat Phimai.
A fierce-looking half man half animal figure, maybe a yaksha guardian, is on the base of this red sandstone colonette
At Phimai, the carving of Vajrasattva dancing on a corpse is seen for the first time in Khmer art. This one is on a pilaster on the central sanctuary.
This colonette carving also shows a woman yogini dancing on a corpse whilst holding a vajra, a bolt of lightning, and a bell
This pilaster contains a much less vivid picture of a monkey holding what looks like the tail of an animal
This pilaster carving of a woman is next to a broken colonette
Two weather-worn rishis occupy the base panels of this colonette at Phimai
A traditional cross-legged pose for the rishi, a Hindu sage or seer
An exaggerated head and lips give this rishi an unusual appearance
Another rishi, dispensing wise words to his disciples whilst holding onto his beard
Another old man, not so wise and with no beard, takes a seat in a window at Prasat Phimai

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Everybody was kung fu fighting

Belle in one of her kung fu poses, or is it a praying mantis?
Yesterday was a bit hectic, hence no posts, and I was still getting over my illness, which thankfully has cleared up now. I did pop out last night to watch two dance performances from Belle, and her young team, for a private company party. If you're not aware, Belle is Cambodia's leading contemporary dancer and is back in Phnom Penh after a few months abroad, in Europe and India. She's currently rehearsing for some home-based shows at the beginning of 2010 before she will be on the road again, taking one of her signature pieces to various countries, including a visit to New York. As I've said before she's a workaholic and literally never stops, but she also supplements her time with private appearances such as the one last night for the company Sabay. She performed two dances, with her male colleagues, the first was a kung fu martial arts dance (and no, she didn't use the music from Carl Douglas' record), the second a quirky, robotic dance that I've seen before. You can see from the photo below that the space they had to dance was about the size of a postage stamp, so far from ideal but she's a trooper and simply gets on with it. When the Phnom Penh performances are confirmed, I'll let you know.
Belle and her kung fu team
5 dancers on a stage as small as this, is no easy feat to perfrom. They had to share it with a motorbike and the musicians.


Friday, December 25, 2009

The inside story

In what looks like red sandstone reminiscent of Banteay Srei,Trailokyavijaya, who is mentioned in the temple's inscription, is the central figure and was the general of the Lord of Phimai
Without the right type of camera equipment, shooting inside the main tower at Prasat Phimai and internally in other buildings, can leave you disappointed. Quite a few of my pictures taken on my recent trip to NE Thailand and the temple city of Phimai, fall into this category. Here are a few of my better indoor shots of the lintels on display in the central sanctuary but quite a few others didn't come out. Inside the tower there's no natural light, but if I use flash then the stonework is washed out and the detail is lost. If I cut the flash then I find the focus isn't as clear and any slight movement and the picture is worthless. I could get a better camera of course but I'm happy with my Sony cyber-shot most of the time and it is so easy and convenient to carry. So I guess I'll just put up and shut up. As for the lintels, Phimai, built from the end of the 11th century, is awash with them, which is great for people like me who love these mini-stories. Without experts like Vittorio Roveda and his Images of the Gods book, then most of them would be pretty meaningless but Vittorio has spent his career deciphering the iconography on Khmer temples and his detailed descriptions are invaluable in understanding what we are looking at.
The Battle of Lanka, on the southern inner doorway, is a popular theme and shows Rama on the shoulders of Hanuman, fighting his sworn enemy who is atop a chariot
The above lintel shows Vajrasattva seated on a plinth with 3 heads and 6 arms and surrounded by four Buddhas and dancing girls. This is the inner lintel at the north entrance.
This west-facing lintel shows Buddha dressed in a long robe standing between two trees in the upper register, surrounded by worshippers. In the bottom register, three dancing girls in the center are accompanied by musicians.
On the eastern inner lintel, the all powerful Trailokyavijaya is seen alongside ten seated Buddhas and eight dancers in the lower register. He has 3 heads and 8 arms.
This is a frontal view of the diety, Trailokyavijaya, dancing on an elephant skin, who is also shown on the walls of Angkor Wat and is therefore a very important figure

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Cry No More's annual bash

Cry No More with the incomparable Roy Hill and Chas Cronk will do their annual bash in Twickenham on 8 January. I can't be there but you can. Don't miss it.

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Christmas cheer - not

Lunch at Java Cafe in Phnom Penh is a popular haunt for expats. After my less-than-tasty cheeseburger there yesterday I've spent most of the intervening hours on the loo and that includes regular trips through the night. I've lost about half my bodyweight. Okay, that's an exaggeration but this is the worst bout of tummy-runs that I've had for a long, long time. Of course they are to be expected, living in a 3rd world country and all, but even so, I'm not exactly filled with lots of Christmas cheer at this particular moment. I'm also at work on Christmas Day, but may soon head for home as I really ain't feeling great. As for going out and celebrating with a nice meal, a few drinks, some nice company - forget it, I need to hover around the loo. Even the blocking tablets that I have used before, have had no effect. If this continues I'll disappear from view, leaving a pile of rumpled clothes on the toilet floor. Now there's a thought. Reggie Perrin and all that.


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Guardian graveyard

The top of the central tower at Prasat Phimai. You can see some of the sandstone antefixes on the lower level.
In continuing my look at Prasat Phimai in Isaan, NE Thailand, which I visited recently for the first time, I went exploring behind the scenes, as I often do, and came across a graveyard of original sandstone dvarapulas. In a workyard where nagas were being fashioned out of freshly-cut sandstone, lines of badly weathered male guardians, or dvarapulas, were gathering dust and are enveloped by weeds in a forgotten corner. Judging by my picture of the very summit of the central tower at Phimai, the sandstone guardian antefixes were decorative elements that adorned the upper levels, though I would suggest that they were removed for safety reasons and simply kept out of sight in this off-limits workyard. Time has not been kind to them. You can still make out their dominant stance and their long club, which would've dissuaded wrongdoers from entering the shrine, but the detail has faded and they've been left to serve their final days out of the limelight.
A veritable graveyard of dvarapulas, or male guardians, out of sight for most visitors
Approximately 100 sandstone dvarapula antefixes occupy one corner of this workyard
The collection of sandstone antefixes are next to the outside wall of the Phimai compound
A weathered male guardian stands upright with his club or long sword
Brand new nagas have been carved from feshly-cut sandstone blocks

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

On the footy wires

The Cambodian national football team have a friendly encounter coming up in January, when they've been booked to play against Ulsan University of South Korea at the Olympic Stadium on Saturday 23 January. The University side are on tour and will face CPL side Preah Khan Reach two days earlier. The fixture is for the national team though it's likely the U23 side will represent Cambodia for this one-off game. This will be an opportunity for the players to enjoy a getogether again after their recent SEA Games adventures, though the main competitive focus for the national team in 2010 will be in October when there are World Cup and Suzuki Cup qualifying matches to be played.
The 4th edition of the Hun Sen Cup (aka Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen Cup 2010, for the full mouthful) kicks off in early January with the provincial round-robin prelims across the country that will also include the big boys of the CPL before the last 16 play a knock-out format in Phnom Penh, with the final scheduled for 6 March. The Hun Sen Cup is the taster for the CPL season, and there's talk of only Khmer players being eligible for the competition this time around, to give more homegrown talent the chance to shine.

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Stick around a bit

If you spot an orange coloured booklet on your travels throughout Cambodia, it'll most likely be the brand new Stay Another Day 2009-2010 edition. Over 60,000 copies are knocking around and its full of initiatives, and adverts, enticing you to stick around a bit longer than you normally would. 76 pages of 'who are we?' and 'what can you experience?' shine a light on projects around the country, so many of which are worth a personal visit, though sometimes it's difficult to separate the worthy project from the well concealed advert. Nevertheless a really neat booklet to read through and select your own favourites. The online version is here.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sophoin on film

Following on from the YouTube video below, here's another one, filmed on the same night as the Meta House screening of The Red Sense. This time it's my very good friend Sophoin, giving her own thoughts on the film, in response to questions by yours truly. I only found these videos today, hence the delay in passing them on. Enjoy.

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YouTube expose

A few months ago now, Meta House screened the movie by Tim Pek, The Red Sense, for the first time in Phnom Penh. The film's lead actor Rithy Dourng came over for the screening and in this YouTube video that I've just seen for the first time, Rithy answers some questions and there's a very short guest appearance by none other than myself. Make sure you've eaten before watching my energetic hand-waving.

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Arbeit Macht Frei

The sign at Auschwitz, which I visited in July 2003
One of the symbols of Nazi Germany has been recovered after being stolen by thieves a few days ago. The sign - Arbeit Macht Frei ('Work shall set you free') - above the entrance gate to the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz, was cut into three pieces and removed last Friday and the theft caused international outrage. Five men have been detained for stealing the sign. The authorities that run the museum had offered a reward of nearly $40,000 to recover the symbol of nearly 1.5 million people, mostly Jews, who perished at the camp near Krakow in Poland. The motto was a cynical ploy by the Nazis' to give their victims false hope and was not monitored by closed-circuit cameras at the museum. I visited Auschwitz in July 2003 and you can read about my trip here.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Roy's Christmas Message

Of all the Christmas messages I've received, of which I ignore the majority, there's one which deserves wider recognition as it comes from one of my favourite people, and musicians, of all time, Roy Hill. So you get a flavour of the man, here it is.

Hello Darling. Doesn’t time fly? Soon be Christmas again and I must say that even the mention of it is making me tense, nervous and slightly damp in places. I thought I’d run through what’s going on at the moment by subject title, in alphabetical order. Isn’t that fun? Here goes …

APPLES : Yesterday (Saturday) I went to buy some apples, I particularly like Russets but they didn’t have any at the supermarket so I bought a samosa instead.

BINGO : Also known as tombola and housey-housey. Pat from next door recently won £10 at a bingo session to raise money for our local scout group. Bingo is thought to have originated in Twickenham which, quite by chance, is where Cry No More will be making their farewell appearance on Friday 8 January 2010. See Cry No More: Farewell appearance.

CHRISTMAS CARDS : I was hoping to send a Christmas card to every newsletter subscriber but now there are three of you the cost has become prohibitive. However, if you print out this email, paste it to some cardboard, fold it in half, draw a robin on the front and write Merry Christmas from Roy inside, it will be just as good.

CRY NO MORE: FAREWELL APPEARANCE : Cry No More will be appearing at the Turks Head in Twickenham on Friday 8 January. This will be positively our last farewell appearance until we decide to do another one. Turks Head. Winchester Hall. 28 Winchester Road. St Margarets, Twickenham, Middlesex, TW1 1LF. Doors open 8.00. Showtime 9.15. Admission £10.

STOP PRESS: There will be new releases on sale! See Cry No More: New CD releases.

CRY NO MORE: NEW CD RELEASES : We’re currently putting the finishing touches to two new CDs, Temptation (a set of previously unreleased songs) and Live in Germany, recorded when we were on tour with Marillion in 1990. Described by Pat from next door as ‘essential purchases’, they’re crammed to the gunnels with a coruscating joie de vivre and on sale from Friday 8 January. Re-releases of Live at the Social Club, Love and Power and Brown Paper Bag, all in new full-colour packaging will also be available on that very same day which just happens to be the date of the Cry No More farewell appearance. What luck! Buy at the show and save postage. I’m listening to Live in Germany whilst I type this seasonal missive as I need to check that the estimable Mr Chas Cronk has increased the applause levels to the point where it sounds like the audiences actually liked us. Do people still say, whilst?

DEEPDENE RECORDS: YOUR ONE-STOP SHOP FOR ALL ROY HILL AND CRY NO MORE RELEASES : Despite the recession, it’s been a record breaking year for the company with some CD sales now into double figures. As Managing Director I take my responsibilities very seriously and continuously strive to ensure we’re the market leader for all Roy Hill and Cry No More releases. Next year will see rapid expansion into important new global markets. These commitments and constant world tours mean that, with regret, I must give up my work as a midwife.

DONKEY DERBY : I’m planning to arrange a donkey derby next year but probably won’t.

INSTRUMENTAL COMPANION : I feel like the head of a showbiz dynasty as my son Jamie and nephew Tom have recently started a band called Instrumental Companion. Well, a duo not a band, probably because no one else will work with them. They write compelling, weird, filmy, soundscapes which can be heard at …

MYSPACE : It’s all go on MySpace. There’s a new 20 minute movie featuring clips from my 2008 world tour in the videos section (just past hardware but before lingerie) some of which will be used for a My Life in Showbiz DVD when I’ve finished, or to be more accurate, started, the eagerly awaited Cry No More Story. Deadlines are not my strong point. See Switzerland and Website.

More videos …

MYSPACE BLOG: RUE MALHEREUSE : I’ve edited the twenty or so instalments of murder mystery, Rue Malhereuse, into two chapters. The plot’s thickening. Will Stanley ever get out of the box? Is Stanley really in the box? Who killed Madame Benoit? Does Alex the talking rat really exist? Search me. I know as much as you do. I love being a novelist, it gives me the chance to wear very tight trousers and a cravat. The blog also contains occasional non-fiction items but you may find it hard to tell the difference.

PAT FROM NEXT DOOR : Pat was recently rushed to hospital with a stubbed toe. She’s now out of intensive care and back on the booze. I bumped into her at the supermarket this morning - still no Russets so I bought a Twix - where she was showing off a new hat she’s made herself. Apparently the plywood alone cost £28.

ROY HILL 1978 : This near legendary album, produced by Elton John’s superstar knob twiddler and all-round megalomaniac Gus Dudgeon is currently being buffed-up for an entirely illegal 2010 release. It’s got a special place in my heart as it virtually ended my career.

SWITZERLAND : Regular readers will have already skipped this part but newcomers will be thrilled to know that Switzerland, an exercise in melancholy and the follow-up to my aforementioned 1978 debut album is nearing completion and will be released early 2010. Due to the endless delays and constant apologizing I can now type the words nearing completion faster than any others.

WEBSITE : This too will be up and running in time for you to buy Switzerland and all the other marvellous Deepdene CDs without having to contact me by email. How very modern! I’m sure you found that information useful beyond belief or possibly just beyond belief.

WORLD TOUR: FINAL DATE : By the time you read this my hugely successful 2009 world tour will have concluded at Lowton Labour Club in Warrington. I wonder how it went? I wonder what songs I did? I wonder if anyone mistook me for BBC weatherman Daniel Corbett?

XMAS SHOPPING : I thoroughly disapprove of spelling Christmas with an ‘X’ but thought it best to make this the last item so it would stick in your mind long after you’ve scoffed at or forgotten the other bits. Searching for last minute gift ideas? Hello Sailor, Fun with Dave, Cry No More and Cry No More live at the Mulberry Tree are all on sale via Deepdene Records, priced at a derisory £10. Just contact me at for details. Put some money aside too for the glut of 2010 releases mentioned earlier.

Finally and most importantly, I love you.

Roy x

H A P P Y C H R I S T M A S !


A brighter future

This article on football in Cambodia appeared on the website recently, putting a positive spin on where we are today.

Cambodia build for a bright future
Although ranked at the lower echelons of the Asian football pecking order, Cambodia are showing positive indicators for the future of the world game in the South-East Asian nation. A fast-growing national league, historic progress in the women’s game and a raw love for the game make for a promising outlook in the nation wedged between Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. Next year is set to be critically important for their national team, who face the dual challenge of 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers and Suzuki Cup preliminaries during the latter stages of 2010. Under respected Australian coach Scott O’Donell, the Cambodians are aiming to repeat the success of two years ago, when they qualified for the Suzuki Cup, the South East Asian regional championship.

Young brigade
Earlier this week Cambodia completed their South-East Asian games commitments with O’Donell using the U-23 tournament as the first building block in the next stage of the senior national team’s development. Now in his second spell as national team coach, the 42-year-old - who is the first Australian to coach a foreign national side - is very much focussed on youth. O’Donell intends to fast-track the majority of the U-23 national team to senior level. “My plan is to keep the U-23s together as the national team. Although there will be a few older players, my general idea is to keep the younger boys together and make them the future of the national team,” he told

A lack of international experience is what could prove the undoing of the Cambodians if the experiences of the last fortnight in Laos are any gauge. “Against Thailand we were losing 1-0, having created some great chances, but then conceded two goals in two minutes of injury time, so for that to happen against the favourites meant were couldn’t get back into the game,” said O’Donell, a former Director of Coach Education at the Asian Football Confederation. “It was a similar story against Malaysia. Unless the players get used to playing against good teams and stay focused and concentrated for 90 minutes, then we will get punished. So that is the tough lesson that came out of the tournament for the players. “We have to try and play to our strengths,” O’Donell continued. “We are not big and we need to play in a similar way to the Thais or the Vietnamese, with quick movement of the ball and movement off the ball. I’m trying to implement a style in which the players can use their strengths.

Football passion
The Cambodian Premier League, which features nine clubs from the capital Phnom Penh and one from the Takeo province, has recently received a significant injection with a recent sponsorship, and the league has also boosted in recent times through the addition of a number of international players. “The league is becoming more competitive compared to when I first arrived, when it was very lop-sided," said O'Donell. "This year the league is a lot more competitive, with some foreign players coming in as well.”

Earlier this year, a Cambodian girls U-16 national team made the 1,200-kilometre journey by road to play against Laos and in doing so created a small slice of history as the first female team to represent this Asian nation. The popularity of the game for both genders remains undiminished despite the relative lack of international exposure, and numbers continues to boom at a significant rate. “If you go to the national stadium on any afternoon, there are hundreds and hundreds of children playing football, bare-footed, across all age groups,” says O’Donell. “Football is so popular. We had over 35,000 to see the (U-23) national team play (in a tournament final) in November, and I have never seen that in Cambodia before. If Cambodia can achieve some relative success on the regional stage, then there will be even further growth.”

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Look at them

Tonight's performers at the Q&A: LtoR; Setpheap, Mom and Davy
A room full of the great and good of Cambodian dance at Meta House tonight watched a 25-minute piece of contemporary dance by three artists, under the tutelage of director Bob Ruijzendaal. Yon Davy, Mom (aka Pumtheatra Chenda) and Sorn Setpheap gave us their own interpretation of a piece called How Do You Move/What Moves You, no storyline, just a mix of classical and contemporary movements that continues to break new ground for these Cambodian artists. All three performers are part of a collective known as New Cambodian Artists (NCA) and the group will perform two more new pieces in January at Meta House before bringing us the follow up to Look At Us Now, which debuted in May and the video of which was also shown this evening, after a brief Q&A with the dancers and director. Davy and Mom were trained in the classics of Cambodian ballet at the Royal University whilst Setpheap's background was in visual arts and the idea to mix and match artists and influences worked well for me. In the audience - the performance space at Meta House was pitifully small and cramped and my viewing was obscured for much of the show - were contemporary dancer Belle, just back from a gig in India, director Fred Frumberg, Toni Shapiro-Phim and a host of other dancers. Find out more about NCA here.

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Naga world

Welcome to Prasat Phimai, with an original lion and a copy sandstone naga
Now it's only a taster as I have a veritable stack of photos to post from my visit to the mainly 12th century Prasat Phimai, but here's some pictures from the naga bridge at the southern entrance of the temple to this Isaan, Thailand-based Khmer temple around which the modern city of Phimai has grown. The southern entrance is where the public arrive at the temple, cross the well-tended lawns and begin their visit. On my recent trip there, some of the staff from the temple's conservation team were at work on one of the naga's, which was a cement copy and can be easily distinquished from the original sandstone versions that are elsewhere on the bridge. Two well-preserved stone lions were alongside the nagas at the entranceway.
The conservation team at work on one of the naga placements
The head of a 12thC Phimai sandstone lion, with a replacement concrete jaw
Another view of the naga bridge that leads onto the southern gopura entrance
The entry to Prasat Phimai is across well cut greenery leading to the southern entrance

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Cambodia fail this time around

The WOVD Volleyball World Cup came to a conclusion yesterday and after looking odds on for a place in the final, Cambodia dropped to 4th place in the six-team standings after they came a cropper against Poland in the 3rd place play-off. It all went wrong for Cambodia against Germany in the last of their preliminary games, when they lost and never regained the momentum they'd established in their earlier matches, and it showed in their semi-final against Slovakia and yesterday's 3rd place match-up. Poland won 3-0 yesterday to claim the bronze medal, while as expected, Germany stormed through Slovakia to claim the World Cup itself, in the final that followed. I didn't go to the games yesterday after watching Cambodia, a shadow of their former selves, lose to Slovakia the night before, with the writing already on the wall. Coach Christian Zepp must take some of the blame for cutting his ponytail off - didn't he read the stories of Samson? Seriously, Cambodia will be gutted with their later performances in the competition and dropping down to 4th in the rankings after their heroics of 2007, after all the hype promoted by Chris Minko and his PR team.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

SSBD didn't stir me

The two stars of SSBD, David Kross and Apinya, alongwith director Detlev Buck on stage before tonight's screening
Tonight was the Cambodian premiere of the movie Same Same But Different, which would've been fine if it started on time, at 7pm, and we hadn't had to sit through nearly 90 minutes of pre-film twittering from director, producer, numerous cinema people and my cat before the picture started. It was a full house and I managed to watch about forty minutes of it before I had to leave for another appointment. I wasn't impressed at all with what I saw. A bagful of cliches including rocket launcher and cow, before backpacker meets hooker, girl has HIV and boy decides to stick by her. That just about sums it up and despite a lot being made of the German-meets-Cambodian connection, it won't make my 'must buy' list. Considering the film is shot entirely on location in Cambodia, the fact that the main actress is Thai is a bit of a kick in the teeth.
Prior to the screening, I popped into Le Lezard Bleu on St 240 to catch the Ancient Pagodas of Battambang painting exhibition before it closes at the end of the month. There's nearly 30 paintings by two artists, Long Kosal & Leurm Lorn, both out of the Phare Ponleu Selpak organization that is creating quite a buzz in Battambang and beyond for their artistic creativity. The paintings were damn good and sell for around $200 apiece.
The pagoda of Wat Kandal in Battambang province
One of the walls at Le Lezard Bleu with the paintings on display

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On a roll

Some of you will be worn out by the number of football-related posts on my blog in recent weeks. I know I am. But it was for a good cause as I tracked at close quarters the Cambodian U23 football team's efforts to bring some SEA Games medals back home. We knew it was going to be a tall order and so it proved. However, the overall Cambodian team that took part in the 25th SEA Games in Laos performed admirably and when competition finished yesterday, they'd accumulated no less than 40 medals - an incredible increase on their previous best in 2007 of 18 medals. The roll of honour included 3 golds, for which the winning athletes will each get a personal monetary award of $6,000, 10 silvers and 27 bronzes. Kudos to all of the Cambodian sportsmen and women who took part in making this SEA Games the country's best-ever. The final medal standings showed Thailand at the top with 86 golds (and 266 medals in total) with Vietnam just 3 golds fewer and Indonesia in third place with 43 golds. Laos, the hosts, grabbed no less than 33 golds. An incredible result for them.
Now, turning away from the SEA Games, I will try and get back to some sense of normalcy with blog postings on books, films, exhibitions, ancient temples and the usual array of goodies that cross my path. Talking of which I've just had an invitation to attend the premiere screening on home soil of the film Same Same But Different at the Cine Lux cinema in Phnom Penh this evening. Shot in 2008 in various locations around Cambodia, its a love story with a twist and all the film's stars will be in attendance. You can find out more about the film here. I'll let you know what I think later. I also had an email today from one of the producer's on the Passport to Asia, a television travel show with American host Samantha Brown, which will be coming to Cambodia for the shooting of an hour-long episode in January. Ms Brown's travel shows are incredibly popular on the Travel Channel in America and this will be another rung on the ladder of opening up the wonders of Cambodia to a wider audience.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Semi-final nerves

Tonight will see Cambodia in the semi-final of the WOVD Volleyball world cup with a 6pm start time for their match against Slovakia, who they defeated for the first-time earlier in the week. It's at the Olympic Stadium and a full house is almost guaranteed, as Cambodia are seeking to reach the world cup final for the disabled for the 1st time. The other semi is between the red hot favourites Germany and Poland. Tomorrow, Saturday, will see the final begin at 6pm, and fingers crossed Cambodia will be in it. First they have to defeat a very strong Slovakian team and their cry-baby captain. If you can't make it in person, CTN will be covering the match live.
It didn't work out for Cambodia as they'd hoped. Slovakia came good in the semi-final again, as they did two years ago, and beat Cambodia 3-1, so its the bronze medal that the Cambodian team will be seeking tomorrow, not the gold medal afterall. The crowd turned out in force but the Slovaks came out blazing and never really let Cambodia get into their rhythm, and its they who will meet Germany in tomorrow's final, after they just sneaked past Poland. All the flag waving, drum beating and horn puffing (by Sorn Elit, the SEA Games medalist, back in Phnom Penh and giving his full support to the volleyball team) couldn't pull Cambodia through on this occasion.
Action from tonight's semi-final which Cambodia lost to Slovakia


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Ouch Savy in person

Ouch Savy was at Meta House to see the film Mekong Delta Blues
I realised tonight that I hadn't visited Meta House, here in Phnom Penh, for quite a while, having been in Laos recently, so it was time to put that right. And what better way than to see a new documentary, that's still unfinished, by filmmaker Julien Poulson called Mekong Delta Blues. It's a 45 minute music road documentary about the chapei legend Kong Nay and his protege Ouch Savy, and their Womad tour to Australia and New Zealand. The director follows Kong Nay and Ouch Savy as they experience life down under with interviews and excerpts from their concerts and radio station interviews. Ouch Savy was in the audience to watch the film - I have yet to see her perform on the chapei in person - and Kong Boran, Kong Nay's son, provided some live music accompaniment on the chapei. I will be back at Meta House on Sunday for a contemporary dance presentation and video that follows on from the Look At Us Now performances in May of this year. There are also a couple of exhibitions on at the moment, at Reyum Gallery and at the Bophana Center that will get my personal attention in the next couple of days.
Kong Boran provides some live chapei musical accompaniment at Meta House

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What do I know?

Typical, what do I know about anything, after Malaysia defied all the odds to capture the gold medal in the final of the SEA Games men's football competition this afternoon. In the qualifying games I saw, Malaysia couldn't hold a candle to the Vietnam team but that last-minute win over Thailand obviously boosted their confidence to the point where they felt they could beat anyone. And so it proved. An own goal sealed Vietnam's fate in the last ten minutes in a game I expected them to dominate. The Malaysians, who should've been thrown out of the competition after attacking the referee in their qualifying match against the same opponents, rode their luck and were rewarded with the gold medal after a barren 20 years without SEA Games success. Frankly I'm gutted as Vietnam's exciting team deserved to win the U23 tournament, they were the best team from all the games I saw, but no-one has that divine right and they have to settle for silver. And just to stick the boot in when I'm down, Thailand have pulled ahead in the race for the largest gold medal haul with 84 to Vietnam's 81, with just a handful of medals still to be decided tomorrow, the last day of competition. I think I'll forget about forecasting in future, I'm obviously really crap at it.


Reputation at stake

I stuck my neck out early this morning on international radio to say that Vietnam would beat Thailand in their gold medal haul from the SEA Games in Laos. Last night both countries were neck and neck in their gold medal collection with 61 golds apiece and today is the last full day of competition, with quite a few finals to be competed for. When I say I stuck my neck out, no-one really cares whether I'm right or not but I did put my reputation (do I have a reputation?) on the line for the Radio Australia listeners just before 8am this morning and I'm sure the breakfast news team will be ramming it down my throat if I'm wrong. In a nice way of course. There's a big push by Vietnam to knock Thailand off their SEA Games pedestal this time around, and the Thais are feeling the pressure. Their football team succumbed early on and Vietnam are almost guaranteed to collect the football gold in today's final against Malaysia. Though Thailand have won more medals in total, it's the golds that determine the table standings and it couldn't be any closer going into the final stretch. Great to see Laos collect 25 gold medals this time around, they picked up just five in 2007. The Games have certainly raised their athletes' performances to an all-time high. And congrats to the Cambodian team too. As it stands, we have 34 medals in total, including 3 golds, and that's a massive increase on our 2007 medal tally, despite far fewer individual competitions. Kudos to Radio Australia for giving the SEA Games some wider international recognition too. I've heard today from my pal Phalla that the Vietnamese are flooding even more people into Vientiane for the football final this afternoon. There's not a seat to be had on the flights coming from Saigon and Hanoi and the roads into Laos are packed with cars festooned in Vietnam flags and colours. There simply won't be enough seats in the stadium to accommodate the fanatical Vietnamese supporters.
On the disabled volleyball front, Cambodia have won their 3rd consecutive game, beating India with ease in the WOVD World Cup, after their first-ever win over Slovakia the night before. The Cambodian team, who are hell bent on winning the trophy for the 1st time, play twice today, meeting the favourites Germany at 6pm tonight at the Olympic Stadium, as well as Malaysia at 1.30pm. Oh, and the Slovakian captain who is probably the biggest cry-baby in world sport is Josef Mihlaco, who was yellow-carded in the match against Cambodia for his incessant whining and poor sportsmanship. I remember that he was exactly the same the last time the World Cup was held in Phnom Penh.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Looking forwards

2010 will be an important year for the Cambodia national football team after 2009 ended with their SEA Games elimination in Laos. In fact, Laos will host the next serious competitive international tournament that Cambodia will take part in, the AFF Suzuki Cup qualifying rounds in October 2010. The five lowest Southeast Asian ranked teams - Laos, Cambodia, Philippines, Brunei and Timor-Leste - will all compete in a round-robin tournament format and the two leading teams will progress to the finals of the 2010 Suzuki Cup. The qualifying games in Laos will be held from 14-24 October. I expect Vientiane will be the venue. The last time Cambodia were in the qualifying tournament was in 2008, held in Phnom Penh, from which they emerged in second place behind Laos and qualified for the finals, though came back home empty handed with no points. That will be their objective again, to qualify for the finals, where they would hope to do better than their results against Singapore (5-0), Indonesia (4-0) and Myanmar (3-2) in December 2008. The finals of the AFF Suzuki Cup will be held jointly by Vietnam - the 2008 winners - and Indonesia. Six teams - Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Myanmar - are already guaranteed a spot in the finals and will be joined by the two qualifiers from the event in Laos. The finals will take place in the first week of December 2010.
Another major international fixture for Cambodia in 2010 will be the two qualifying matches, home and away, for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The draw for which fellow Asian country Cambodia will face has not yet been made but the matches will take place on 8 and 12 October 2010, just before the Suzuki Cup tournament in Laos. Camboodia failed at the first hurdle in the opening qualifying round for this year's World Cup, when they lost 5-1 on aggregate to Turkmenistan (the games were played in Oct 2007).
The Cambodian football federation will need to decide on who will lead Cambodia into the above matches. Aussie coach Scott O'Donell took on the national team job, for a 2nd time, in June of this year, with a 1-year contract, that will expire in the middle of 2010. Continuity is absolutely vital if Cambodia are to keep progressing and O'Donell's knowledge of football in the region and his no-nonsense approach have already ensured that Cambodia are heading in the right direction. The U23 squad that gained invaluable experience in Laos recently will form the backbone of the national team next year and it would be foolish to change direction at the helm in my view. O'Donell is the man for the tasks that lie ahead.

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The future

Today's Phnom Penh Post article
The last of my reports from the adventures of the Cambodian U23 team that competed in the SEA Games is published in the Phnom Penh Post today. It's a round-up piece with national coach Scott O'Donell giving his views on what happened and what needs to happen in the future. Scott will submit a detailed report to the country's football federation of the team's showing at the SEA Games and what he would like to see take place in the future, taking into account the best practice from other nations. Preparation is a key element to any tournament and getting that right is a minefield in itself. One national team for example, Indonesia, sent their squad to Uruguay for months on end to hone their skills but still failed to reach the semi-finals of the SEA Games football competition. They also have a budget set aside for the national team of over $3 million. There is no guarantee for winning whatever the preparations are, you just have a better chance of success if your preparations are right. Some countries like Singapore have their best young stars playing together in league competition and yet Singapore, who gave us a footballing lesson in Phnom Penh a few months ago, failed to reach the SEA Games final too. As I said it's a minefield and Cambodia have had to negotiate a lot of those already just to get where they are today. There is no panacea to becoming a success overnight. It takes time, careful planning and a concerted effort from all sides and that vision of the future is what the Cambodian football federation must address sooner rather than later.
You can read the article online here.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Disabled prowess

Spike action from tonight's game with Cambodia in dark blue and their coach, Christian Zepp, standing in red
With the buzz of the SEA Games still ringing in my ears and the knowledge that Cambodia have easily beaten their 2007 medals tally already, with 26 at the last count this evening, I went to watch my first match of the WOVD Volleyball World Cup. And I definitely chose the right matchup. Cambodia versus Slovakia is probably the toughest match that will be played by all the six teams competing in this world cup competition. I remember the games between the two teams in 2007 and I specifically remember the bad sportmanship showed by the Slovakia No 1 and captain. His non-stop moaning and whining (and his quality blocking and volleying) was a feature then and it looks like he hasn't learnt his lesson now, as he was at it again. Cambodia ran out 3-2 set winners in a very close preliminary round encounter and that set the crowd alight, with clapping, cheering and drum-bashing throughout the match. Most enjoyable and I hope to get along to a few more Cambodia games leading up to Saturday's final. They've already beaten Poland and still have to face Germany, Malaysia and India to identify who the the semi-finalists will be on Friday.
The support tonight was excellent and even this Malaysian player got caught up in the mood with the Cambodin flag
The Cambodian team and support staff celebrate their success over Slovakia


Sambath's enemies

A new feature length documentary that aims to break the silence from the people who committed atrocities in the name of the Khmer Rouge on their own people is to be shown at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival in late January in the US. Enemies of the People - One man's journey to the heart of the killing fields is Thet Sambath's, a senior reporter with the Phnom Penh Post, quest to find out what really took place during the chaotic time when he lost his own family. For the documentary he co-produced and directed with Rob Lemkin, his investigative skills served him well to get close to many of the killers as well as Brother Number two, Nuon Chea, now waiting for his trial to start at the ECCC. It was one of 12 films selected out of 782 entrants for the world documentary section of the festival. Link: film website.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Crime does pay

Here's hoping for a Vietnam success in Thursday's football final
The bad boys of Malaysia have turned the form book on its head by reaching the SEA Games men's football final on Thursday and can say with a snigger, 'crime does pay.' Personally I'd like to wipe that smug look off their face but some might say its sour grapes. Not really, I just don't like to see people getting away with murder and then going onto be winners, or in this case, silver medalists as I hope Vietnam stuff them good and proper in the final. Cambodia were never going to get to the semis, their group was far too difficult and with both finalists coming from it, that's been proven. But Malaysia deserved the book thrown at them for their disgraceful behaviour towards the match officials when they lost to Vietnam in the group match between the two sides. They got off very lightly with just two players getting suspensions for man-handling the Korean referee, verbally assaulting him, throwing water bottles at the officials and all round gutter behaviour. One player was also accused by the referee of punching him but the disciplinary committee felt the case was unproven, which means they chickened out of that one as it would've probably meant a life ban on the player and the SEA Games is all about comradeship, not pointing fingers. Even their team officials couldn't help but complain that the referee incited their team. Give me strength. They were an indisciplined rabble and their officials are no better. As it was, Malaysia lived to play another day and caused the upset of the SEA Games when they beat Thailand in injury time of their final group match, to progress to the semis. Now no-one in Vientiane wanted the Thais to get through but on 2nd thoughts, I wish they'd battered the Malays, but they didn't and Malaysia spanked the behind of the plucky hosts, Laos in tonight's semi-final, winning 3-1 in front of 23,000 screaming Laotians, all hoping for a fairytale success. Vietnam, who will undoubtedly win the football gold medal to placate their success-hungry fans, put paid to the moneybags of Singapore, 4-1, in the other semi-final tonight. I'm hoping for a six-nil drubbing of the Malaysians by the speedy gonzales's of Vietnam just to put them firmly in their place.


On the radio

Anyone listen to Radio Australia? I was on the breakfast programme, Radio Australia Today, this morning, giving my thoughts on the SEA Games to the presenter Phil Kafcaloudes, just before 7.30am. It was just a quick five minutes talking about how the Laos public have embraced the games with gusto, how everyone loves the underdogs like East Timor and how enjoyable it was to attend the games and to see how seriously some countries take them, ie. Vietnam. The presenter loved the fact that Vietnam sent over 300 journalists to cover the event, whilst Cambodia sent just two, both from the Phnom Penh Post. Radio Australia focuses on Asia and the Pacific region and regularly has news items from Cambodia and neighbouring countries.
Much nearer home, at the Olympic Stadium here in Phnom Penh, the WOVD Volleyball World Cup is back in town, after creating such a stir when Cambodia grabbed bronze at the 2007 event. Six teams - Cambodia, Germany, Slovakia, Poland, Malaysia and India - will compete for the cup this time around and matches will begin tomorrow and last through 'til 20 December, though at the moment, I can't find the schedule of games and times. Get along if you can, the standard of play in 2007 was top drawer and I expect no less this time too.
The match report from Friday's Vietnam game is in today's Phnom Penh Post and can be read online here. It's also below.
My article in today's Phnom Penh Post

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

My impressions

So how would I sum up my SEA Games experience, even though its still taking place and there's lots more medals to be won, but I'm back in Phnom Penh, trying to catch it on tv. Well, firstly, it was wonderful to see how much the people of Laos have made it such an important event to them and their country. Everyone is talking about it, it seems nearly everyone is involved in it in some way, and it really seems to have captured the imagination of the whole nation. If they manage to win the football, all hell will break loose. I don't think the country would ever stop celebrating. Not that them winning gold is likely, but it would be something special if it did happen. I found the Lao people in general to be very friendly and most welcoming, as I did when I first visited the country about a year ago. Whilst some of the officials involved in the organization are a pain the ass (but that's the world over), generally the overall plan seems to be working, it just falls down sometimes when you get to the nitty gritty details, as we found with the football team on a couple of occasions. Not being allowed into the stadium for the opening match readily springs to mind. The Games are certainly a great opportunity to mix with other nationalities for the competitors, which is always beneficial. Though from my viewpoint, it would be better if the Cambodian contingent had met each other before they went to Laos, to engender more team spirit amongst the various competitors representing our country. That was certainly lacking. The football team didn't know the petanque team who didn't know the tennis team, and so on. That needs a lot more work by the olympic committee in the future, to build up a national comraderie and support for each other. The lack of live television coverage, because of the fees involved, haven't helped in generating interest in the Games in Cambodia. That too needs addressing, as the interest in other countries such as Laos, obviously, but also Vietnam and Thailand is huge. You wouldn't believe the number of people from Vietnam who are either in Laos right now, or watching it all day long on the tv. They are taking the Games very seriously, whilst most Cambodians probably don't even know they are taking place. A legacy of the Games will be improved sports facilities in Laos, which would be a great benefit if Cambodia were ever to host the Games. Personally I had a good time with the football team, despite the results, we got on well and they treated me like one of their own. I hope they will be able to separate the valuable experiences they've gone through from the disappointing results as many of them are eligible for the Games in two years time and this tournament will make them stronger players for that. My thanks to Scott and the rest of the team for their support during our two weeks together. I enjoyed meeting old friends, making new ones and confirming for myself what a lovely country Laos is. Overall, I enjoyed it immensely.


A last look

Last minute instructions from Scott O'Donell to Lorn Sotheara, who started his first game
Lay Raksmey is getting the benefit of Scott's experience
This is a final look at the Cambodian football team during their SEA Games adventures which have just come to an end. They beat East Timor but lost their group games to Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam and failed to qualify, and it pretty much panned out according to the formbook, though apart from the Vietnam game on Friday, the Cambodians gave a good account of themselves throughout. This is their warm-up and moments before they played their last game against Vietnam, where coach Scott O'Donell made some changes to the regular line-up. Scott flew back to Phnom Penh yesterday, on the same flight as myself, and is off to Australia today for a family holiday after spending every day with the players since the beginning of October. It's time for some R&R with his family over Christmas. The players will also have some well-earned time to relax before they report back to training duties with their club teams, ready for the Hun Sen Cup which will begin sometime in January.
Assistant coach Bouy Dary takes the team through their warm-up
Clap hands and stretch, in the pre-match warm up
Lorn Sotheara, Khim Borey and Sok Rithy
Samreth Seiha gets in some shot-stopping practice before the game
San Narith deep in concentration
A last minute team huddle before they enter the pitch
Sun Sovannarith (18), left, waiting to lead out his team
Cambodia getting ready to enter the fray
Khim Borey, Sok Rithy and Tieng Tiny
Khim Borey and Sok Rithy, 'getting their heads right'
Kuoch Sokumpheak and Prak Mony Udom just before kick off

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A load of boules

Gold medalist and SEA Games singles champion, again, Sok Chanmean
Friday morning, before the afternoon football match against Vietnam, I went to join with some of the other Cambodian competitors at the SEA Games and particularly the petanque team, of whom great things are expected. Their court is right next to the Games Village and when I arrived the petanque team - 12 men and 12 women - were all getting their eye in on the practice area. I spoke for quite a while with one of the women's triples team, Oum Chantrea, who spoke very good English. She pointed out all the players for me and gave me some background on the various categories of petanque, or boules as she called it. She also told me she trains for many hours every day, especially in the lead up to the SEA Games, where Cambodia and Thailand are always battling it out for the medals. Though she's on the books of the police force in Phnom Penh, she's travelled widely through Asia with the petanque team and loves her sport and the comraderie with her team. I met the two singles competitors, 2007 gold medalist Sok Chamean, who is the brightest star of the whole team, and ladies national champion Ouk Sreymom, who Chantrea said; 'she looks like a man,' though that didn't stop her in the semi-final I watched, from blitzing her opponent, though she had to later settle for the silver medal in the afternoon final. The team were very vocal in their support for each other and everyone took what vanatge point they could to watch the morning's semi-finals. In the scorching sun, both of the Cambodians marched through to the finals, where Chanmean repeated his 2007 success.
After the semis ended I wandered over to the building where the taekwondo tournament was being held. Though the Cambodian team wasn't due to fight until later that day, I did meet up with some of the team, including the medalists from the day before, brother and sister duo, Sorn Elit and Sorn Davin, who have got to be the tallest Cambodians I've ever met. I also chatted to Ung Chamroeun, my colleague from the Phnom Penh Post, who was darting about covering as many sports as he could, though he was a bit down after his favoured tennis teams were knocked out of the team event at the first hurdle. As I type, Cambodia has 11 medals, 7 in taekwondo and 4 in petanque, with the latter giving us our 2 golds so far.
Ladies singles silver medalist, Ouk Sreymom
Sok Chanmean in serious concentration mode during his semi
The two Cambodian medalists together at the end of their semis
A view of the petanque court next to the Games Village, at the national university complex
A giant of a man and a silver medalist in taekwondo, Sorn Elit
A family to be proud of, Sorn Davin (bronze) and Sorn Elit (silver), both taekwondo medalists
I bumped into Sompong Soleb, the Thailand striker who looks likely to be the tournament's top scorer with 2 hat-tricks, though the Thais are now out
Vietnam boss Henrique Calisto is mobbed by the press after the win over Cambodia
A massive Vietnam flag is paraded before the game, where Vietnam fans outnumbered Cambodians by 1,000 to 1

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A real thrashing

There's no escaping the final score, Cambodia 1 Vietnam 6
Apologies for the delay in providing the run-down on Cambodia's final football match in the SEA Games, which was played on Friday afternoon. In many respects the game and the result - a 6-1 defeat - against Vietnam summed up the team's tournament. Moments of real quality, smart passing and never-say-die commitment but those moments were fleeting by comparison to the skills, quick-feet and deadly finishing displayed by the Vietnam team. Cambodia were never in the hunt against Vietnam, unlike the games against Thailand and Malaysia where they always had a chance. The Viets started strongly and never really let up apart from a couple of brief spells where Cambodia had them on the back foot. Scott O'Donell gave a run-out to Sou Yaty in goal, Lay Raksmey at right-back as well as Lorn Sotheara in the middle of the park and Prak Mony Udom on the right flank. Vietnam needed at least a point to be sure of their place in the semi-finals but they went looking for all three points from the off, though it was Khim Borey who had the first shot, when he fired over the bar from 20 yards. After that it was pretty much one-way traffic as Cambodia back-pedalled and Vietnam pressed. Their captain Pham Thanh Luong cut inside Sun Sovannarith and fired in the first goal on 11 minutes while Sou Yaty got down well to keep out another effort from the same player a few minutes later.
Cambodia rallied on 22 minutes when a great half-volley from Keo Sokngorn looked set for the far corner before the giant Vietnam keeper Bui Tan Truong got his fingertips to it and pushed it wide. Sovannarith put a free kick down the keeper's throat two minutes later and moments after that, Prak Mony Udom raced clear of the Viet defence but dragged his shot wide of the target and that brief flame of Cambodia passion quickly ran its course. Vietnam's stranglehold on the game returned but they didn't cash in until 3 minutes before the break. A corner was headed in unchallenged by Phan Thanh Hung. Halftime 2-nil. Sou Yaty was in the thick of the action early in the 2nd half, distinquishing himself with a double save on 54 mins. Cambodia lost Lorn Sotheara after a clash of heads and whilst he was off getting treatment, Vietnam netted a 3rd. Stretched at the back, Luong scored his 2nd goal on 63 minutes. Two minutes later slack marking allowed Hoang Dinh Tung a free header with his first touch after coming on as a sub.
Khim Borey latched onto a Chhun Sothearath pass, turned neatly and fired it past Truong in the Viet goal for a small consolation on 68 minutes, as Cambodia offered up some resistance. A minute later, Sokngorn's cross to the far post was a whisker away from sub Oum Kumpheak and with a bit more luck, Cambodia would've added another. However, Vietnam weren't finished and on 83 mins Tung added his 2nd after Yaty had saved well from Ngoc Anh. In the last minute the Viets scored their sixth when Tran Manh Dung slotted in with ease with the Cambodian defence at sixes and sevens. It was a thrashing in reality and showed Cambodia the standard they need to achieve to begin to match the best teams in the region. Vietnam now play Singapore in the semis, with Laos meeting Malaysia in the other. The Cambodian players left the ground quickly, heads bowed low as their tournament ended in a 3rd defeat. They team left the Games Village at 7am yesterday for the two-day bus ride back to Phnom Penh, and should arrive sometime this evening.
Cambodia U23 line-up: Yaty, Raksmey, Sovannarith (capt), Tiny, Rithy, Narith (56m Sothearath), Sotheara (63m Kumpheak), PM Udom, Sokngorn (84m Laboravy), Borey, Sokumpheak.
Sun Sovannarith leads out the Cambodian team against Vietnam
The players enter the field at Chao Anouvong stadium in Vientiane
Cambodia are at 'home' and stand to attention for the national anthem
Getting themselves ready for the start. LtoR: Tiny, Rithy, Borey, PM Udom
LtoR: PM Udom, Sokumpheak, Narith, Sokngorn
LtoR: Raksmey, Sotheara, Yaty, Sovannarith (capt)
The Cambodian bench before the gameThe Cambodia starting XI. PM Udom breaks ranks and folds his arms.
The lonely walk back to the dressing room after their 6-1 defeat to Vietnam

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Pushed for time

I have very limited time this morning before I return to Phnom Penh, my SEA Games experience over after Cambodia's failure to advance beyond the group stage in men's football. I leave my guesthouse for the airport at 8am courtesy of my friend Phalla, my flight is at 10.20am and I should arrive in Phnom Penh an hour or so later. I'll be sad to leave Laos and the SEA Games especially after enjoying some of the other sports yesterday, but I've had two weeks here and it's been fun, despite the eventual outcome. I had dinner with my two Thai friends Toong and Noina last night at the Spirit House, on the banks of the Mekong River, after they too were left to drown their sorrows, as they'd witnessed Thailand's remarkable exit from the football competition, losing in time added on to Malaysia. Now that was a result I didn't expect, I thought that Thailand were headed for the final, so it's good that the Games have thrown up a shock, rather than going according to plan. More later when I get time on my return to Phnom Penh.


Friday, December 11, 2009

Success and failure

The Cambodia line-up for today's game against Vietnam: LtoR [back] Udom, Narith, Yaty, Tiny, Rithy, Borey. [front] Sotheara, Sokumpheak, Sokngorn, Raksmey, Sovannarith
Cambodia found Vietnam in no mood to dish out the niceties in their final Group A SEA Games match this afternoon at Chao Anouvong. If anyone thought that Vietnam would take it easy on their neighbours then they were mistaken, as they pummeled the Cambodian team into submission, leading 2-0 at halftime and then piling on the agony in the second half, to win 6-1. Cambodia gave their opponents too much room to play in and didn't get in nearly enough tackles, as Vietnam adopted their fast-paced style of football and proved too hot to handle for the Cambodian youngsters. Khim Borey pulled back a consolation goal for Cambodia after Vietnam had netted four without reply but it was too little too late and another couple of goals in the last 7 minutes gave the scoreline that lopsided look. Three defeats and that win over East Timor showed that Cambodia still have some way to go to match the better teams in SEAsia, but they always knew their Group was going to be very difficult, and that's exactly how it turned out. Thailand, who've won the last eight gold medals in SEA Games at mens football won't win this time around after losing late on to Malaysia, 2-1, when they only needed a draw to go through. More from the Cambodia match later.
Earlier in the day I went to the national university complex to give some support to the Cambodian petanque (boules) team and was pleased to see that the men and women's singles competitors were on top of their game. I couldn't stay for the afternoon finals but they won their semi-finals against Laos opponents with room to spare and with some style. Sok Chanmean is already a SEA Games gold medalist from 2007 and showed his class in his semi-final. At the same time, national ladies singles champion Ouk Sreymom disposed of her semi-final opponent with some ease to qualify for the final. The support given to the players by their own Cambodian contingent was noisy, with the petanque squad comprising 12 men and 12 women and all were on the sidelines cheering their colleagues onto victory. I've just heard that Sok Chanmean took the mens singles gold medal but Ouk Sreymom had to settle for the silver in her final, as she did in 2007.
The Cambodian team's pre-match huddle in front of the massed ranks of Vietnam fans
Cambodia's Petanque singles medalists: Sok Chanmean (left) and Ouk Sreymom

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Such a shame

Is it just me or was the shameful goalless draw played out between host nation Laos and Singapore that has just finished, everything that is wrong in international tournament football? The match attracted 20,000 fans and if I was one of them I would've demanded a refund and the referee should've declared the match as a 'no contest.' With both teams level on four points with Myanmar in Group B, they knew that a point apiece would see them both progress to the semi final stage and that’s exactly what they settled for. Laos provided brief glimpses of attacking intent but for the most part were happy for Singapore to pass the ball along their back-line for the whole game. It really was that dire. To be honest, the two captains could've met in the centre circle at the start, shook hands, agreed on a draw and not played the game at all. At least that would've been more upfront and honest. What I watched tonight was not two professional teams giving their all to win a match. The Games committee have to ask themselves why the two final Group B matches didn't kick off at the same time at different venues, rather than allow this complete shambles. Earlier in the day, Myanmar comfortably disposed of Indonesia 3-1 in their final Group B game. The victory put them level on points with Laos and Singapore before the two met knowing exactly what they needed to do. Tomorrow's final two Group A matches will surprisingly begin at the same time at different venues, with Cambodia facing Vietnam at the Chao Anouvong stadium, right around the corner from me. Vietnam only need a point and it would be easy for both teams to copy the Laos v Singapore style of non-competitive football, but I have complete faith that both countries will give it their all to provide a true game of football. Or am I just naive?
My brief article for the Phnom Penh Post on the Laos v Singapore game can be read here.


Home or away

Cambodia 'at home' against Malaysia, face to their right
Cambodia 'away' against Thailand, face to the left for the national anthem
The national anthems of the two competing teams are played before each match and depending on whether you are the designated 'home' or 'away' team will determine which way you turn to face, and respect, both the national anthem and your flag. The flag is actually held on the ground by ball-boys rather than fluttering from a flagpole. It would be far more helpful for my photograph album if the players simply faced forward. Organisers please take note.
One of my pet hates is being played out at every game at this SEA Games. When a player goes down injured, the referees' automatically call on the stretcher-bearers who invariably arrive at the player before the physio, man-handle him onto the stretcher before any initial assessment of the injury is made. This happens at all the CPL games in Phnom Penh too and is basically an accident waiting to happen. The stretcher guys are less qualified to do the job than my pet cat (if I had one) and the day they aggrevate a broken leg or a ruptured cruciate ligament is the day when the football authorities might just wake up to this unacceptable practice. Someone, please stop this nonsense. I've spoken to the head doctor who attends some of the CPL games and he agrees with me 100%. I wish someone would listen before someone suffers.
Two more medals this afternoon, both in taekwondo, which makes 4 in all to-date. This time we went one better and grabbed two silvers for Sorn Eliot (who won a bronze in the last SEA Games in Khorat) and So Naro, in the heavyweight and middleweight sections respectively. Taekwondo is proving to be a fruitful medal sport for the Khmer contingent.
My match report from the Malaysia game is in today's Phnom Penh Post.
Cambodia fail to advance here.

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Viets in the driving seat

The Laos Women's Magazine team, that interviewed me the other day, in action
Tomorrow afternoon will be the final game of Cambodia's football SEA Games adventures, when they face their near neighbours Vietnam at the Chao Anouvong stadium at 3pm, in the bright sunshine. Scott O'Donell has said he may make one or two changes to the team that lost to Malaysia. Cambodia cannot qualify, but Vietnam can make sure they do if they get at least a point against us. They cannot rely on Thailand beating Malaysia in the other game. Cambodia will be playing for their pride whilst I expect Vietnam to play their usual fast-paced, aggressive style even though relations between the two countries have never been so cordial. Not only did Vietnam sponsor the BIDC Cup but they provided their facilities at Thanh Long for the Cambodian team to train there for six weeks prior to the Games. Vietnamese money is flowing into Cambodia and Laos at a great rate of knots at the moment, their investments and their influence is mushrooming all the time, whilst Thailand's is on the wane. This is reflected in their football too. The support here for the Vietnamese far outstrips that of Thailand, both at the games and on the streets. The Vietnamese have come here to grab the SEA Games by the scruff of the neck and dominate it. They have flooded the place with journalists to report every eye-twitch and the whole of Vietnam is tuning in nightly for sports updates I'm told. Meanwhile, the moneybags of Singapore have their own recovery centre near the Games Village, where the footballers can relax, get a massage, or a hot and cold bath or find something else to pass the time until their next game. Inside the Games Village the relaxation facilities for competitors is practically zero, with no games room and just two tv's per block of athletes.
A look at the Chao Anouvong stadium before the spectators are let in
The lull before the storm at Chao Anouvong stadium, which holds between 5,000 and 10,000. No-one is quite sure.
The stadium is searched by army mine-dector teams before each game
The new national stadium 16kms outside of the city
The scoreboard end at the national stadium
The national stadium should hold 20,000 but the public address announced 40,000 on the opening day of the football!
My vote for the best defender in the SEA Games goes to Thailand's skipper Kiatprawut Sawaeo who spent a year at Man City but couldn't get a work permit


Pounding head

I didn't get up early enough to go and watch the sepak-takraw afterall. My head is pounding this morning and I'd like to get the stitches out sometime this morning. This afternoon's Group B football matches have been moved from just around the corner from me at Chao Anouvong, to the national stadium so that more fans can get to see the Laos v Singapore match. What a pain, it was perfect that I'd get to see two more football matches on my doorstep and then some bright spark moves both matches. Obviously the whole of Laos want to see the football team beat Singapore, but that's not taking into consideration my feelings at all. The problem with games at the national stadium is that I'd have to catch two buses to get out there (its 16kms outside of the city) and the games finish after the last bus returns to town - how's that for SEA Games co-ordination. There's no way I'm giving any custom to the rip-off tuk-tuk merchants, who are an absolute disgrace and run a mafia monopoly on the local transport with their ridiculously exorbitant pricing. As I've said before, there's no such thing as a convenient motodop here in Laos, so unless I want to pay through the nose for a taxi or a tuk-tuk, I'm a bit snookered.
I popped along to Mahosot Hospital just a few minutes ago to have my stitches removed by an obliging nurse. It cost me about $8 for the removal and tablets for my headache. The scar is pretty ugly right now, but with my face, its hard to tell the difference for anyone else!
On the medals board, Cambodia registered their 2nd bronze when 17 year old female Sorn Davin (pictured) got a second taekwondo bronze, in the middleweight division. She's the younger sister of the Cambodian national men's champion Sorn Elit and was in training with the rest of the taekwondo squad in South Korea prior to the Games. In the last SEA Games in Khorat in 2007, Cambodia completed the competition with a medal tally of 2 golds, 5 silver and 11 bronze.


Nurses unite

A lunchtime rendezvous with Noina (left) and Toong
Wednesday was pretty much a rest day for me. I had to file a match report from last night's game, get hold of Scott O'Donell for some after-match comments and watch the opening ceremony of the SEA Games on tv as trying to get in on my press card would've been nigh impossible. I also met a couple of ladies for lunch who I'd first met the night before at the Cambodia v Malaysia match. They are Toong and Noina, who hail from NE Thailand, Khon Kaen to be precise, and who are both qualified nurses. They had crossed the border for a look at the SEA Games for a few days, watched the football at Chao Anouvong and then attended the opening ceremony. They professed to being big fans of Scott O'Donell and have made me promise to send them some pictures of him. They also told me that my stitches should come out tomorrow as five days is the recommended length of time for facial stitching. I had dinner and a drink with my pal Phalla tonight and we saw them at a restaurant before they headed back to the hotel and an early morning date with the sport of sepak-takraw. If I get up early enough, I might just join them.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Press talk

Yesterday's Phnom Penh Post carried three of my stories.
Cambodian U23s waste chances but win easily here
Victory crucial for Cambodia here
Brief: Stats from SEA Games here.

Congratulations to Cheat Khemara, who collected Cambodia's first medal of the 25th SEA Games with a bronze in the individual Poomsae section of Taekwondo, held at the National University complex. Laos won the silver, Indonesia the gold medal. I don't begin to know what Taekwondo is all about though google tells me that Poomsae are a set sequence of movements that consists of the various fundamental stances, blocks, punches and kicks logically arranged in a meaningful order in response to attacks from multiple imaginary assailants. Whatever it looks like, Cambodia have their first medal on the board. Cambodian Prime Minster Hun Sen is in Vientiane today to attend the formal opening ceremony of the Games, his first ever appearance at the SEA Games.

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More from last night

4 Lao students who are acting as volunteers and looking after the Cambodian football team
A few more pictures from last night at the Chao Anouvong Stadium. Before the Cambodia v Malaysia match, Thailand turned on the style against East Timor, winning 9-0 but could've scored twenty. They were missing their 3 best players but that didn't make any difference. Sompong Soleb, who scored three against Cambodia, did it again against Timor, with two players getting a brace as the goals rained in. It was plucky Timor's last game and they were unlucky not to score a couple of times, but it really was men against boys. In the Cambodia game there wasn't much to choose between the teams though Malaysia got their noses in front, held on when Cambodia pressed them at the start of the 2nd half, and increased their lead as Cambodia looked for goals. Another learning experience for the youngsters. 1-0 or 4-0, the final score doesn't really matter, it's the outcome that's important and even if they beat Vietnam in the final game on Friday, qualification isn't possible. Today is the opening ceremony of the SEA Games at the new national stadium, so everyone and their dog will be cramming into the ground for that. I haven't got a ticket and there are too many media for everyone to go, so I'll have to watch it on tv. Two of the players (Seiha and Pancharong) will be attending after a light training session this morning, as all of the squad had a made-to-measure suit for the occasion, courtesy of the country's Olympic committee, but numbers have been restricted.
The rampant Thailand team, who slaughtered East Timor 9-0
The media scrum that surrounds Thai coach Steve Darby's every word
End of the pre-match warm-up and time for liquids, Nov Soseila in center
Final instructions to skipper Tieng Tiny from the coaching staff
High kicks in the pre-match warm up
More warm-up routines before last night's game against Malaysia
Nov Soseila was recalled to the team for last night's match
Chhun Sothearath (16) leads the players in the warm-up
Clap hands and bounce!
Gentle jogging and a few stretching exercises for the Cambodian team before the game begins

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No hiding place

Scott O'Donell watches his team line up for a photo
Well I've eaten at last and now that the internet connection is working in my guesthouse room, I'll give you the low-down on tonight's game. Malaysia had two players suspended before the match after their unacceptable behaviour towards the referee in their last game. They should've had a 3rd player suspended too, for allegedly striking the ref, but somehow he got away with it. They came into the game in the same position as Cambodia, needing to win it. Cambodia coach Scott O'Donell dropped Chan Chhaya, bringing Nov Soseila in on the right flank, and moving Khim Borey into attack. Chan Dara replaced the suspended Sun Sovannarith. Cheered on by a small contingent of flag-waving Cambodian competitors from the shuttlecock and petanque teams, Cambodia kicked off and were fortunate that Malaysia's Idlan Talaha was a bit rusty with a couple of early efforts. Khim Borey had Cambodia's best chance of the first half when he got goalside but dragged his shot across the face of the goal. On 35 minutes, a 1-2 on the edge of the box allowed Manaf Mamat time to round Samreth Seiha and slot the ball home to give Malaysia a one-goal halftime advantage.
Cambodia made the early running after the break. Sokumpheak fired over, before he was pushed from behind and the ref from the Maldives pointed to the penalty spot, 8 minutes into the half. Annoyingly, there was indecision about who would take the penalty after Borey's miss in another game, so Sokumpheak stepped up and duly sent the keeper the wrong way. Cue celebrations, which were cut short when the referee ordered it to be retaken for encroachment. This was a crucial decision, as Sokumpheak fired his 2nd spot-kick straight at the keeper. Ten minutes later, a Tieng Tiny free kick on the edge of the D, was finger-tipped over by the Malay keeper and not much was going Cambodia's way. That was confirmed when on 77 minutes, Malaysia got behind the defence and Idlan Talaha finished well. Cambodia went to three at the back to force the issue and on 82 minutes, after Seiha had saved well and the ball had pinged around the box, Kunanlan Subamaniam poked in the 3rd. Four minutes later Seiha conceded a penalty when he brought down Subamaniam and Safiq Rahim netted from the spot kick. In injury time, Prak Mony Udom had a 25-yarder tipped over and Tieng Tiny had a headed goal disallowed but it was too little too late. Malaysia had won and Cambodia's hopes had been well and truly dashed. The players sat on the sideline for at least fifteen minutes whilst the result sunk in and the ground cleared. There was no hiding place for the defeated.
Cambodia U23 line-up: Seiha, Rady, Dara, Tiny (capt), Rithy (79m Chhaya), Narith, Sothearath (61m PM Udom), Soseila, Sokngorn (72m Laboravy), Borey, Sokumpheak.
Waiting for the start. Lto R: Narith, Dara, Sothearath, Seiha and stand-in skipper Tiny
More waiting. LtoR: Borey, Sokngorn, Rady, Narith, Dara, Sothearath
LtoR: Rithy, Sokumpheak, Soseila, Borey, Sokngorn
The players line up waiting to shake hands
The national anthem for Cambodia
Getting ready to take their chance if selected, the Cambodian substitutes
The Cambodia bench before kick off
The players line up ready for their entrance onto the field
Waiting to enter the fray: LtoR: Borey, Sokumpheak, Rithy

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Shattered dreams

Cambodia's starting XI that faced Malaysia tonight. LtoR [back] Seiha, Dara, Sokngorn, Rithy, Rady, Tiny. [front] Sokumpheak, Narith, Sothearath, Soseila, Borey
Cambodia's SEA Games dreams were shattered by Malaysia 4-0 tonight, though it was a story of what might have been, before the Malaysians went onto rub salt into the wounds with three goals in the last 13 minutes. An in-depth look at the game will follow tomorrow morning as I haven't eaten anything substantial today and I don't want to collapse. Suffice to say, the first half could've gone either way though Malaysia nosed in front after 35 minutes. Cambodia were denied a goal when the referee made Kuoch Sokumpheak take a penalty twice and the keeper saved the 2nd one, just eight minutes into the 2nd half. That was a killer blow. Malaysia grabbed a 2nd goal on 77 minutes and after that it was effectively all over. Heartbreaking for the youngsters and their faces at the final whistle said it all. In the earlier game, Thailand thrashed East Timor 9-0.
The Cambodian bench stand for the national anthem
Three Cambodian competitors who came to cheer on their country
Members of the Cambodian shuttlecock team lend their support to the football team

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Not a pretty sight

An update on my face...well, I'm still as ugly as before, but maybe even moreso now with the stitches in my forehead. I took the dressing off for the first time today, after I came a cropper on Sunday night, and the three stitches the doctor said he'd put in, turned out to be five, with one next to my eye, which I didn't even know was there. At last night's game at least half a dozen people asked me about my injury and told me they were there in the room when I was stitched up. Though I was a bit groggy at the time, I knew there were a lot of people in the first-aid room, but it must've been packed. I should've sold tickets to watch the barang get stitched. The doctor told me to leave the stitches in for a week and then I will get to see how bad the scar will look. Hey, look on the bright side, it might even improve my appearance.

Stats and more stats

The whole Cambodian SEA Games contingent arrived by bus on Sunday night. They are now all firmly camped in the Games Village which now has over 2,300 competitors and officials installed to-date. They have room for about 4,000 as more will arrive before the opening ceremony tomorrow. Here's a stat attack from the SEA Games, that I sent to the PPP.
For the 25 sports to be competed for in the 25th SEA Games in Vientiane, Laos a total of 4,869 athletes will vie for 370 gold, 370 silver and 539 bronze medals. Defending champions Thailand are sending the largest contingent of competitors with 842 in their SEA Games squad, comprising 550 athletes and 292 officials. Second is host Laos with 743 (482 athletes and 261 officials), followed by Vietnam (671), Malaysia (469), Indonesia (465), Philippines (413), Myanmar (400), Singapore (392), Cambodia (204), Brunei (79) and Timor Leste (77).
Athletics is the most popular sport with 288 athletes taking part, followed by football (280), shooting (169), sepak-takraw (167), swimming (140), karate (130), cycling (116), archery (114), badminton (114) and judo (101). The 25 sports also include aquatics, snooker & billiards, boxing, golf, table-tennis, taekwondo, tennis, volleyball, weighlifting, wushu, silat, petanque, shuttlecock, muay thai, fin swimming and wrestling. The Games officially open on 9 December, though the qualifying group stages of the football competitions for men and women began last week.


Make or break

This Cambodia starting XI will change for the game against Malaysia
This afternoon is a make or break match for Cambodia's SEA Games semi-finals hopes. It's simple, we need to beat Malaysia at the Chao Anouvong Stadium at 5.45pm to have a chance of going into the final match, with Vietnam on Friday, with qualification still a possibility. So you get the picture, here's my preview article that I submitted to the Phnom Penh Post yesterday.

Cambodia’s U23 team face Malaysia today at the Chao Anouvong Stadium in Vientiane, knowing that nothing less than a positive result will be enough if they want to keep alive their hopes of grabbing one of the two semi-final qualifying places from Group A. Malaysia thumped Timor Leste 11-0 in the opening game of the football competition but went down 3-1 to Vietnam on Sunday to leave their own hopes of qualification in the balance. Malaysia’s current SEA Games experience got off to a stuttering start when their scheduled flight from Kuala Lumpur was suspended for a day as they’d failed to get international flight clearance, though they quickly put that behind them with that record-breaking victory against Timor Leste. Eight different players scored against Timor with Ahmad Shakir Ali netting a hat-trick. In the reversal against Vietnam, they had influential midfielder Razak Zaquan sent off in the final minute and he will miss the game against Cambodia, as will their keeper who is also suspended for 1 match following their post-match antics.

Malaysia ’s team coach K Rajagopal has warned his players not to take Cambodia for granted as they seek their first SEA Games gold medal in 20 years - their last success was when the Games were held on home territory in Kuala Lumpur in 1989. “We must not underestimate any team, including Cambodia . We can’t afford another slip-up in our bid to qualify for the semi-finals,” said the coach. "I haven't seen anything of Cambodia apart from their two games here. We recorded a larger win than I expected against Timor, but that has gone now."

His opposing coach, Cambodia ’s Scott O’Donell has identified Malaysia from the outset as tough opponents, bracketing them with Vietnam and Thailand, as the three key teams in the group. "Malaysia are a good team and they've had some impressive results leading up to the SEA Games and they've been together for a long time. It's going to be a tough game, but I've got confidence in my boys." After watching their defeat against Vietnam, O'Donell said, "Malaysia will be disappointed. They were pretty much outplayed by Vietnam and once Vietnam got that third goal they sat back. The boy who got sent off is a good player, he's scored a few goals. He'll be a loss for them. They play the ball around well, are technically good players and its going to be tough for us. If we go out there and do our best, anything can happen." O'Donell played a season in Malaysia in 1994 with Tampines Rovers and lived for a while in Kuala Lumpur before taking on his second stint with Cambodia earlier this year.

With such a strong group, the likelihood is that qualification will go down to the wire, maybe even goal difference, so Malaysia ’s trouncing of Timor could still hold them in good stead. On Friday, the last day of qualification, Cambodia will face Vietnam at Chao Anouvong Stadium while Malaysia wrap up their campaign against the favourites and eight-time winners Thailand at the National Stadium. Both games will start at 3pm. Both Cambodian and Malaysian football fans will be unable to see Tuesday's game live in their respective countries after the Laotian organizers demanded such a large television rights fee that neither country’s main broadcasters took up the option of taking live television coverage. Malaysia haven’t exactly been starved of SEA Games success despite those 20 lean years without a gold medal. They won silver in 2001 when the competition was switched to an U23 format and the bronze medal in 2003 and 2005. The last meeting between the two teams in SEA Games competition was in Manila in 2005 with Malaysia recording a 5-0 success. In their six previous meetings in the SEA games, Malaysia have won on each occasion.

Cambodia's influential skipper Sun Sovannarith is suspended for the game after picking up two yellow cards in successive games, so coach Scott O'Donell will be forced to alter his starting eleven. Possible replacements for Sovannarith are Touch Pancharong, Lay Raksmey or Chan Dara. My tip for the starting XI is: Seiha, Rady, Pancharong, Tiny, Rithy, Narith, Sothearath, Borey, Sokngorn, Chhaya, Sokumpheak. But there could be more suprises in store. Watch this space.

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Thai report

My match report for the Cambodia v Thailand game appeared in yesterday's Phnom Penh Post. Click here to read the article online.

Thai discipline too much for Cambodia in games' opener
Cambodia’s U23s go down 4-0 to Thailand in the SEA Games Group A opener in Vientiane on Friday, with a brace in time added opening an overwhelming gap.
Cambodia's hopes of qualifying from Group A of the Southeast Asian Games U23 football competition were dealt a blow Friday with a 4-0 opening day defeat to Thailand in Vientiane. The damage was done in time added on at the end of the first half, with Thailand capitalising on sloppy defending to score twice and take a 3-0 half time lead. Up until that point, however, Cambodia were matching their experienced opponents closely. Cambodia national coach Scott O’Donell expressed his disappointment of seeing his team concede two before the break. “That was the end of the game after that,” he said. “We’d done so well: 45 minutes and 1-nil down; it was excellent. The boys did really well. We were disciplined but then we conceded two soft goals. We maybe switched off, but the last four minutes weren’t good enough. To be fair we made it easy for them to score. It wasn’t their great play, it was us,” he admitted. “Poor defending and we were careless with our possession. We allowed them to get crosses in, no challenge on the crosses, and when that happens against teams like Thailand, we’ll get punished. That’s the lessons we’ve got to learn. It was always going to be uphill after going in 3-nil down.”

The Cambodian starting 11 was at relatively full strength, missing only the exciting wing play of the recently injured Nov Soseila. Thailand were without key defender Suttinun Phukhom and striker Teerasil Dangda, both of whom were injured, and made five changes to the team that drew 1-1 with Vietnam two days earlier. Cambodia kicked off the game, which began in brilliant sunshine in the compact Chao Anouvong Stadium, in front of a lower-than-expected crowd of 700. It was Cambodia who had the better of the early exchanges, and in the 11th minute their normally reliable marksman Kuoch Sokumpheak was off target with his finishing. He charged down a clearance from Thai captain Kiatprawut Sawaeo, raced into the penalty box but sent his shot skidding across the goalmouth and agonisingly wide. Four minutes later, the Khemara striker took a pass from Chan Chhaya in his stride, but his well-struck drive from 15 yards out was safely gathered by Thai keeper Kawin Thamsatchanan.

Against the run of play, Thailand took the lead in the 16th minute. Adul Lahsoh’s defence-splitting pass sent Anawin Jujeen to the bye-line, and his cross found the head of Sompong Soleb, who made no mistake from 10 yards out. On the half hour, Cambodia keeper Samreth Seiha spread himself to deny Anawin after he’d danced his way past three tackles and into the penalty area. Another Cambodian opportunity went begging five minutes before the interval. A surging run and deep cross by Pheak Rady evaded everyone in the box except Keo Sokngorn, but the teenager leaned back as he blasted his drive over the crossbar from 15 yards. Then disaster struck. In the first minute of added-on time, Arthit Sunthorphit’s left-wing cross was met firmly by Kirati Keawsombut, who rose unchallenged to head past Samreth Seiha. The goalkeeper was equally helpless a minute later as Thailand notched a third. Anawin escaped his marker, and his cross was scooped in by Sompong from the edge of the box. The Cambodians trooped off dejectedly at the halftime whistle, knowing their hard work had been undone in those two final minutes.

After the break, with Cambodia seeking an early breakthrough, it was Thailand who edged further ahead. On 51 minutes, Anawin was again the architect, supplying a cross to Kirati, whose pass to Sompong allowed the striker to claim his hat trick with a deft finish. It was a sweet moment for the replacement striker, having missed three sitters against Vietnam a couple of days earlier. Scott O’Donell sent on fresh legs in Prak Monyoudom and Khounla Boravy just before the hour, and they showed some nice touches but couldn’t penetrate the rock-solid Thai defence. Kuoch sent a header in the arms of the Thai keeper, and Keo did likewise with a 20-yard shot, as Cambodia tried in vain to reduce the deficit.

On 63 minutes, a reckless challenge on Anawin by Cambodia skipper Sun Sovannarith earned a booking, and Thailand a penalty. Arthit’s well-struck spot-kick was superbly pushed aside by Samreth Seiha, and the goalkeeper reacted quickly to block Sunthorphit’s follow-up. The keeper was again called into action three minutes from the end, when another fingertip save denied Sompong a fourth. In time added on, the match ended on a sour note when players from both teams reacted to an incident on the midfield line. In the ensuing free-for-all, Kirati was booked for elbowing Tieng Tiny but the ugly melee was a more a reflection of Cambodia’s frustration with their own inability to match their Thai opponents.
O’Donell condemned his team’s behaviour. “I said to the boys that it’s not acceptable,” stated the coach. “Whatever happened I don’t care, I hate that kind of stuff, and I won’t accept it again.” However, he conceded that his players had all worked hard and tried their best.
“[Kuoch] Sokumpheak’s chances were probably better than their chances,” O’Donell admitted. “But they took theirs, and we didn’t take ours. We’ve got to be smarter. That’s what happens when you play against good teams like Thailand.” Thailand’s coach Steve Darby voiced his satisfaction. “We did our job,” he said. “It wasn’t great, but it was enough. Cambodia were well organized, they worked hard and didn’t make it easy for us. They will be difficult to break down for any team in this group.”

Later Friday, plucky Timor Leste held out for 54 minutes against Vietnam before finally succumbing to a 4-0 defeat in their Group A tie. Midfielder Mai Tien Thanh netted a hat trick, with substitute Phan Thanh Binh claiming the other goal.

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Lamnao is king

The Laos line-up of heroes before their 2-0 win over Indonesia
Last night was a big night for the Laos fans, who packed the small stadium at Chao Anouvong to cheer on their national team to success against Indonesia. And it worked, they won 2-0 with their golden boy Singto Lamnao getting both goals. Yes, the same guy who embarrassed himself in Phnom Penh during the BIDC Cup for taking a dive and getting sent off. Here, he is revered and his two goals in the 2nd half gave the Laos team the much-needed win. Okay the first goal looked suspiciously offside but they are the home team so decisions like that will go in their favour. I think Laos getting through to the semi-finals will be a good thing for the football competition as it will certainly guarantee packed houses. At the ground I met Chamroeun, my colleague from the Phnom Penh Post, who arrived with the rest of the Cambodian delegation last night. A fleet of four buses carried the whole of the Cambodia contingent of competitors and officials overland for two days. I was also interviewed on camera by the Laos Women's Magazine for my views on the SEA Games, what I thought of Laos and also of ladies football. Of course, I was more than happy to oblige, having watched half a game of ladies football yesterday lunchtime at the National University ground. In the earlier match last night at Chao Anouvong, Singapore were too strong for Myanmar, especially in the air, winning 2-1 with two first-half goals. In fact Singapore look like a team of Asian giants compared to the Cambodian line-up, much as they did in Phnom Penh a few months ago, when they came and walloped us 6-nil.
Laos national team coach Alfred Reidl being interviewed last night
The Singapore coach Terry Pathmanathon, a former teammate of Scott O'Donell in Malaysia
A team of Asian giants, Singapore
The Myanmar coach at the after match press conference, Drago Mamic - he wasn't happy
The plucky Myanmar line-up before the game


Monday, December 7, 2009

More from the night

The Cambodia team try to organize themselves for a pre-match photo
Rounding up last night's activities at the National Stadium, where Cambodia beat East Timor 4-1 and Vietnam defeated an unhappy Malaysia 3-1. I didn't manage to catch any of the Malaysian antics on camera as they chased and surrounded the referee at the final whistle but I did see one of the Malaysian players throw a full water bottle at the 4th official when he wasn't looking. Very cowardly. All of the goals were scored in the first half and all of them by Vietnam players. Their slick passing and movement undid Malaysia with goals from Phan Thanh Binh, Mai Tien Thanh and Trong Hoang, whilst Vo Hoang Quang headed a beauty of an own goal. I'm not sure why the Malaysian players objected to the referee but he did book 5 of their players and sent off Razak Zaquan in the last minute. At the time of typing this I'm not sure if Malaysia will receive any punishment for spitting their dummy out but it was all pretty disgraceful nonetheless.
The Cambodian flag in person and on the scoreboard
Pre-match pictures: Scott O'Donell and team manager Vann Ly
Pre-match warm up routines for the Cambodian players
This is a bit like two-step training
Flexing their leg muscles before kick off
Vietnam's captain and playmaker Pham Thanh Luong
Mai Tien Thanh scored a hat-trick against Timor and 1 more v Malaysia
The Malaysian coach, K Rajagopal outside the Games Village
Vietnam's first goal against Malaysia was a twice-taken penalty by Phan Thanh Binh

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On the night

Killing time before kick off. Scott O'Donell and I pose in front of the main stand.
Sun Sovannarith leads out the Cambodian team in blue
The first batch of photos from last night at the National Stadium where Cambodia defeated East Timor 4-1. There are no photos after the match as I was in the first-aid room getting treatment.
The Cambodian team line up ready for the national anthems
LtoR; Tieng Tiny, Chhun Sothearath, Khim Borey, Sok Rithy
LtoR: Pheak Rady, San Narith, Keo Sokngorn, Tieng Tiny
LtoR: Sun Sovannarith, Samreth Seiha, Kuoch Sokumpheak, Chan Chhaya
The players listen to the Cambodian national anthem
The Cambodian bench do the same, coach Scott O'Donell on the far right
The referee tosses a coin for choice of ends
This is the moment that Khim Borey's penalty was saved by the East Timor goalkeeper

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Cambodia pummel Timor

4-1 was the final score last night but of course, it was so 1-sided that it should've been a larger scoreline in Cambodia's favour. And that's what Scott O'Donell, the coach, was keen to point out to the players, that they need to be more clinical in front of goal. Kuoch Sokumpheak scored twice but he could've had a hatful. The normally ultra-reliable Khemara striker knew it too as he hid his face in his hands when I quizzed him about it on the coach back to the Games Village. I missed the first two minutes of the game as I rushed from pitchside to a seat in the stands but it was all Cambodia from the start and that didn't change for 90 minutes. Sun Sovannarith and Pheak Rady raided constantly down the flanks, the midfield broke down any passing moves the Timorese tried and Sokumpheak up front, was busy as ever though lacking his usual sharpness. A trip on Keo Sokngorn gave Khim Borey the chance to slam home a penalty on 15 minutes, but the Timor keeper saved well. Just 4 mins later, Sokngorn nodded in the first at the far post after Sokumpheak turned provider. Sokumpheak then showed his tigerish qualities when he mugged a Timor defencer, raced into the box and finished with style on 33 minutes.
It was all one-way traffic but with Borey and Sokumpheak squandering chances left right and center, O'Donell decided on some fresh legs and sent on Khuon Laboravy and Nov Soseila. Both players did well to quicken the pace. On 81 minutes goal number three finally arrived. Keo Sokngorn took his chance well after Sokumpheak again did the donkey-work. A minute later Sokumpheak had his head in his hands again, when he sidefooted a great chance wide of the target but made amends with three minutes to go when even he couldn't miss, after Laboravy had hassled the Timorese defence. In the last minute Timor grabbed their moment of glory with a volley that caught Samreth Seiha napping, their first shot on target all game. Four goals, good performance, could've done with a wider winning margin but the big loss is Sun Sovannarith. The skipper picked up a silly yellow card late on and will miss Tuesday's game against Malaysia. It was his 2nd booking in as many games. His experience will be a loss.
As the game ended and I raced back down to pitchside, that's when I cama a cropper and my head is still spinning this morning. My eye looks like I've been in the ring with a Cambodian kickboxer. That'll teach me to look where I'm running. I had a quick drink with the Cambodian coaching staff this morning in town, before they returned to the Village for a meeting to discuss the Malaysian team's antics at yesterday's game with Vietnam. I didn't see it but I'm told they players virtually attacked the referee at the end of their 3-1 defeat to Vietnam, after he sent off one of their players. Any disciplinary action the Games committee take may be helpful to Cambodia, who now meet Malaysia in a make or break game tomorrow.
I have a stack of photos to post but the internet connection is on a go-slow today and I also have to get going to two games at Chao Anouvong. Myanmar v Singapore and Indonesia v Laos. Both games are in Group B, not in Cambodia's group but it's just around the corner and free for the press. I'd be stupid not to go.
Cambodia U23 line-up: Seiha, Rady, Sovannarith (capt), Tiny, Rithy (83m Dara), Narith, Sothearath (63m Soseila), Borey, Sokngorn, Chhaya (57m Laboravy), Sokumpheak.

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Sunday, December 6, 2009

The good and the bad, and now the ugly

The Cambodian team line-up before tonight's win over Timor Leste. LtoR: [back] Tiny, Sokngorn, Rithy, Rady, Sokumpheak, Borey: [front] Narith, Sovannarith, Seiha, Sothearath, Chhaya.
The good news is that Cambodia swept aside Timor Leste/East Timor with a great deal of ease at the National Stadium tonight, winning 4-1 but in truth, the scoreline should've been considerably higher. We didn't take as many of our chances as Scott the coach would've liked, that's for sure. Two goals each for Keo Sokngorn and Kuoch Sokumpheak, but we also allowed Timor to score in the very last minute with their first serious shot on goal. That was a pain but the victory was the important result if we are to harbour any serious hopes of qualifying to the semi-finals. Much more detail to follow, but the not so good news is that as I made my way to the touchline from up in the stand at the end of the game, I came a cropper, banged my head on the pavement, cut my forehead just above my left eye and had to sit in the doctor's room for twenty minutes while he cleaned and then stitched the cut with three stitches - missing the end of match celebrations in the process. Goodness knows what it'll look like in the morning and once the stitches come out. I will have a scar to remind me of our 4-1 success over East Timor. I'd rather have just had the photos! You'll have to excuse me, I have a blinding headache.
I'm trying to put a brave face on it, but the throbbing in my head is painful
I spotted three Cambodian flags in the 300+ crowd-crowd. This one belonged to a Khmer family living in Vientiane.

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The nation expects

Timor Leste, or East Timor as I know them, are the next target for Cambodia's U23s as they play their must win game tonight at the National Stadium, some 17kms outside Vientiane, at 5.45pm. Anything less than a victory will leave Cambodia's hopes of qualifying to the semi-finals in tatters. If they win, they will then have to win their next two games, Malaysia (Tues) and Vietnam (Fri) to make qualification a reality, but the first step is East Timor. Slaughtered in their opening game by Malaysia 11-0, the Timorese put on a plucky display against Vietnam in their 2nd outing, losing 4-0 but gaining a lot of friends, and confidence, from their performance. They arrived at the SEA Games with a squad of just fifteen eligible players, another three overage players, with some of them only arriving on the morning of their first game. They showed against Vietnam that they have some tricks up their sleeve so it won't be the pushover I initially thought. Cambodia will have to do the job, they can't expect a win, they will need to work hard to get it and I expect coach Scott O'Donell to give the same starting eleven a second chance to redeem themselves. We played a great first half against Thailand, we more than matched them but conceded two sloppy goals just before the interval whistle and the game was over. We can't afford to switch off for a second in our remaining games or we can kiss goodbye to our SEA Games hopes. I hope to get back online later tonight to bring you the result.

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Saturday, December 5, 2009

The last word

The two coaches chat before the game. LtoR Steve Darby (Thai) and Scott O'Donell (Cam)
The last batch of photos from yesterday's opening SEA Games match for Cambodia, a 4-nil defeat to Thailand. We will put it right against Timor Leste tomorrow. I bumped into Steve Darby and the Thai team in Vientiane this morning. Steve reiterated how well he thought Cambodia played, how organized they were and how they could've netted a couple before his team got off the mark, with the all-important early goal. He also felt, and hoped, Cambodia will surprise one of the other two teams in Group A who are fancied to progress. He also told me a couple of football stories from this part of the world that would make your hair curl, but I'm sworn to secrecy.
Match action. The penalty which Samreth Seiha saved with a superb diving save to his left
The game was played in brilliant sunshine at the compact Chao Anouvong Stadium
Scott O'Donell reads his team the riot act after a last minute fracas ended the game
Thailand coach Steve Darby before the game
The after-match press conference for Steve Darby
Vietnam's coach Henrique Calisto
The coach of Timor Leste, Manuel da Costa Soares
The second string Vietnam team that faced Timor Leste last night

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The final moments

The two captains toss up and choose ends
Another batch of pre-match photos, this time the Cambodia team moments before the kick-off against Thailand. The Thai players gave their Cambodian opponents a red rose each to signify friendship during the handshake. One quipped to me, 'we're playing football not getting married.'
The Thai players gave their Cambodian counterparts a red rose as a sign of friendship
The Cambodian team stand to attention for the national anthem
The Cambodian bench listen to the national anthem
Sun Sovannarith and Samreth Seiha ready for the off
LtoR: Chhaya, Borey, Sokumpheak, Narith, Tiny
LtoR: Rady, Sokngorn, Sothearath, Chhaya
LtoR: Sovannarith, Seiha, Rithy, Rady
The players take to the field ready for the pre-match formalities

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The warm-up

Cambodia skipper Sun Sovannarith (18, red) leads out the national U23 team yesterday
I'm back online, better late than never, so here are a flood of pictures from last night at the Cambodia v Thailand encounter, here in Vientiane. By the way, today hosts Laos drew with Myanmar 1-1 and Singapore lost a 2-goal lead against Indonesia to draw 2-2. These teams are in Group B. Cambodia are in the 5-team Group A and face underdogs Timor Leste tomorrow at the National Stadium (5.45pm start), expecting to put that defeat against Thailand behind them. Timor, who got stuffed 11-0 in their 1st game, played a blinder against Vietnam for nearly an hour last night before going down. It wasn't Vietnam's strongest side by any stretch but Timor battled bravely and will be a tough nut to crack tomorrow afterall.
The Cambodia team and coach Scott O'Donell waiting for the match to begin
Captain, and new father, Sun Sovannarith deep in thought
The FIFA official in white trousers making a fuss of a player's good luck string bracelet!
All ready for the off
The players getting ready for their first game in the SEA Games
Touch Pancharong (24) and Nov Soseila (14), on the bench against Thailand
Chhun Sothearath (16) in the pre-match warm-up
Kuoch Sokumpheak has a stretch before the action begins
A light jog kicks off the pre-match warm up routine for the Cambodian squad

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Ticked off

I'm very angry with my own newspaper, the Phnom Penh Post, for this extract from an article by Ung Chamroeun titled Fans hungry to see success. It bemoans the lack of live television coverage of the SEA Games but then touched on alleged corruption of sports officials, illegal betting on football results, and the apparent throwing of matches. It provided the following quote;
Vann Ly, manager of U23 football team, refuted allegations of corruption in the current squad. “The players will try their best,” he said at a press conference. “If they win, they will get a lot of money. How can they sell the result without thinking about the nation?”
What alleged corruption in the current squad? That's complete bullshit. Someone with an axe to grind suggests that Cambodia's success in the BIDC Cup was fixed and it suddenly becomes a corruption scandal. There is absolutely no basis for this, no facts, no nothing, just someone with a big mouth. This is just the type of negativity and, no better way to put it, shit-stirring that is a cancer in football and sport in general. If there's no story - let's make one up. I'm close to the national team, I've been immersed in football for more than thirty years, and the Cambodia team are not, I repeat not, involved in anything of this nature. I'm extremely disappointed that the Phnom Penh Post should even waste column inches on such bullshit. End of rant.


Cambodia go down but not out

Okay no pictures but here's my run down on the Group A opener for Cambodia's U23s as they went down 4-0 to their Thailand counterparts. First off, I was surprised at the small crowd as I expected the compact 5,000 capacity ground to be rammed with Vietnam supporters - they were playing after the Cambodia game - and as Thailand is just the other side of the river, I expected hordes of Thai fans as well. Neither materialized. Instead the Lao authorities supplied the cheerleaders with pom-poms and flags and regular Mexican waves. Cambodia lined up as expected with Nov Soseila on the bench still nursing an ankle injury. Thailand made 5 changes to the side that drew 1-1 with Vietnam.
To be honest, we didn't do ourselves justice. Though the Thai team were bigger and stronger, we matched them for the first half, well 45 minutes of it anyway. Then in added on time we switched off, handed them a couple of goals on a plate and the game was effectively over. There was no coming back from a 3-nil half-time scoreline especially against the Thais, who are the strongest of the regional nations and know how to shut-up shop. Their finishing was clinical whilst ours was wayward. They had a couple more chances than Cambodia did but the teams were pretty evenly matched and to lose 4-0 is galling, it looks one-sided but it was anything but. Of course I would say that, but its a fact. We played some neat interchanges in midfield, our defence snuffed out much of the Thai threat but when the Thais had chances they took them. Kuoch Sokumpheak, normally so reliable in front of goal, failed to convert a couple of guilt-edged first half opportunities and that was the difference. So much rests on so little. In internationals, you simply don't get a hatful of chances, so its important to snap them up when they come along. The Thais did. Then when we thought we'd got to half-time with just a goal behind, we were caught by a sucker-punch with two goals in as many minutes, as the players stood around waiting for the interval whistle. Their lack of international know-how cost Cambodia dearly. You can't switch off at all, let alone for a couple of minutes.
Instead of getting that all-important early goal after the break, it was Thailand who got it and the game was definitely over. Cambodia huffed and puffed but played to Thailand's strengths with high balls into the area, which they dealt with easily. In skipper Kiatprawut Sawaeo they have probably the best defender in the region. As Cambodian heads dropped, Sun Sovannarith was guilty of a reckless challenge and conceded a penalty, and a booking (San Narith and Keo Sokngorn were also booked in the game). Samreth Seiha, not at fault for any of the goals, pulled off a fantastic double save to keep the Thais at bay, though he couldn't stop replacement striker Sompong Soleb, who netted a hat-trick, with Kirati Keawsombut scoring the other goal.
The game ended in farce when Keawsombut elbowed Tieng Tiny and all hell let loose as all 22 players piled in. The Thai striker ended up on a stretcher and with a yellow card but others were lucky to escape red cards. The referee blew for time and Cambodia were treated to a verbal ticking off from coach Scott O'Donell for their last minute transgressions. In his words; "I said to the boys its not acceptable. Whatever happened, I don't care. Accusations of elbowing one of our boys and everyone ran in - I hate that stuff, it's all bullshit and I've told them I won't accept it again."
As for the rest of the game, the coach couldn't hide his disappointment, especially conceding two goals at the end of the 1st half. "That was the end of the game after that. We'd done so well, 45 minutes and 1-nil down, it was excellent, the boys did really well, we were disciplined but then we conceded two soft goals, we maybe switched off but the last four minutes weren't good enough. To be fair we made it easy for them to score, it wasn't their great play, it was us. Poor defending and we were careless with our possession. We allowed them to get crosses in, no challenge on the crosses and when that happens against teams like Thailand we'll get punished and that's the lessons we've got to learn. It was always going to be uphill after going in 3-nil down,"
"The boys all worked hard and tried their best. Sokumpheak's chances were probably better than their chances but they took theirs and we didn't take ours. We've got to be smarter. That's what happens when you play against good teams like Thailand, you make mistakes and you get punished," stated Scott immediately after the game. Thailand's coach Steve Darby admitted, "we did our job, it wasn't great but it was enough. Cambodia were well organized, they worked hard and didn't make it easy for us. They will be difficult to break down for any team in this group." But after a 4-0 defeat those words won't cut much ice with the dejected Cambodian players who then watched most of the Vietnam v Timor Leste game which ended 4-nil to Vietnam, who fielded a mostly second-string line-up. However, Timor showed they are better than the 11-0 defeat to Malaysia in the 1st game suggested and will be a test for Cambodia on Sunday afterall. It's a must win game for Cambodia if they are to remain in the running to qualify from their group.
Cambodia U23 line-up: Seiha, Rady, Sovannarith (capt), Tiny, Rithy, Narith (57m PM Udom), Sothearath, Borey (83m Kumpheak), Sokngorn, Chhaya (58m Boravy), Sokumpheak.

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Crap connections

I am now getting really cheesed off with the internet connections in Laos. They are crap, even at the internet shop that has been servicing my needs for the last few days. After a power outtage this morning, they are now unable to connect my laptop to their internet feed (and neither can a few other places) so it looks like I won't be able to post any more pictures until we can get it fixed, which is a real pain in the arse. I gave them an hour to get it resolved whilst I had lunch but to no avail. As as is the attitude that prevails here, no-one can give a damn. They don't understand and they don't care. Too busy playing games on their pc's.

Internet problems

I'm having internet problems today. I hope to bring you more from yesterday's football later this afternoon.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Cambodia beaten

The Cambodian U23s line-up before this afternoon's match against Thailand in Vientiane
Cambodia were beaten 4-nil by Thailand this afternoon in their first SEA Games Group A match. Not a fair scoreline but Thailand took their chances and Cambodia were left to rue what might have been. More later as I need to get a bite to eat first. Oh and plucky Timor Leste held out against a second string Vietnam side until the 54th minute and eventually went down 4-0.
An on the pitch assessment from coach Scott O'Donell to the players after today's game

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Preview of today's game

I know its after the event, but my preview article appeared in the Phnom Penh Post today and here it is.

Nov Soseila ruled out of U23s Group A match opener today
Cambodia’s inspirational young winger has been left off the team sheet due to injury for today’s opening SEA Games match against Thailand.

Cambodia's U23 team take on regional archrivals Thailand in their opening Group A match today at 3pm at the Chao Anouvong Stadium in Vientiane, although they will be without their talented winger Nov Soseila. A kick on his right ankle in their final practice match in Vietnam a week ago is still causing him discomfort, and national team coach Scott O’Donell doesn’t want to take any unnecessary risks of aggravating the injury, saying: “Seila won’t start. We’ll keep treating him and see what happens.”

His omission is a blow to Cambodia’s attacking options, as Nov Soseila showed how dangerous he can be with his quick feet and ability to take players on, causing mayhem in the final third of the pitch, at the recent BIDC Cup tournament in Phnom Penh. To overcome the loss, it is likely that Chhun Sothearath will get a starting berth in central midfield, with Khim Borey switching to the right. O’Donell has other options at his disposal and will also consider employing wide players Prak Monyoudom or Khuonla Boravy against Thailand, and for their second match Sunday against Timor Leste.

“I’ve been very happy with the training sessions,” O’Donell said. “We’ve been working hard for seven weeks, every day. We’ve been focusing on all aspects of our game, our formation and shape, getting the players tuned into what we want in the game situation. Against [Vietnamese club team] Can Tho we looked sloppy, and we got caught in possession and stopped moving the ball around quickly. So we’ve been working on that in training, getting the players to understand what’s required. We can’t afford to get caught in possession in our defensive third because so many goals get scored from that. I’ve drummed it into the boys that Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia will close us down, so we’ve got to keep the ball moving and doing the simple things well,” the coach said.

O’Donell is upbeat in his assessment of his team. “I’ve got faith in them and I’m sure they will go out there and do the job. If we are well organised and we stay disciplined and, if all the boys play to their capabilities, we can cause an upset. But the players have got to believe it too. We’re not here to make up the numbers. I don’t want us to be the whipping boys any more. I want us to make that next step up. I know the rest of the teams have written us off. If you talk to the rest of the coaches, its all Vietnam and Thailand. That’s good, that’s the way I like it. The boys have to believe in themselves and have faith in each other, because they are all good players. If we give 100 percent, even when things go wrong, we can cause Thailand some trouble.”

The Cambodian players and coaching team watched both of the opening Group A matches at the new national stadium, 17km outside of Vientiane, Wednesday. Malaysia efficiently disposed of East Timor 11-0, while Thailand and Vietnam played out a hard-fought 1-1 draw under floodlights. “It was a good opportunity for us to see the key players, what they are like, particularly for set pieces, because we will allocate players and give them responsibilities,” O’Donell said. “How they play, how they do things, it’s important, but we’ve got to focus on our game. Thailand looked good, particularly in the first half. They played as we expected them to play. They looked solid. They dropped off a bit in the second half, and Vietnam came back quite strongly, as they moved the ball around quickly and caused Thailand some problems. Both teams played good football. I thought it was an entertaining game for the neutral. However I hope the standard of refereeing improves, as it was shocking for both teams.

“Thailand’s strength is their movement off the ball,” added the coach. "Their passing and their movement is something that our boys aren’t used to. It’s something we’ve got to cope with. That’s why it’s even more important that our organisation and our discipline is right, that we keep our shape, and stay nice and compact. Reduce the space they’ve got to play in. If we do that then we’ll make it easier for ourselves, but if we allow ourselves to get stretched and get caught in possession, they’ll cause us problems. Vietnam conceded their goal from a corner that didn’t need to be given away and they got punished for it,” O’Donell said. “We’ve done that a few times, so we’ve got to reduce the number of corners and unnecessary free-kicks we give away, and when we do, we’ve got to make sure we’re disciplined in our marking. If the players work as a unit, we’ll make it hard for them.”

Thailand’s coach is Englishman Steve Darby, a long-time adversary of O’Donell’s. Both were club coaches in Singapore at the same time and have known each other for many years. Darby is now assistant to the national Thailand coach Bryan Robson, who took over after Peter Reid returned to England. He has already predicted that his team will meet Vietnam in the final of the SEA Games competition. Thailand have won the gold medal on the last eight occasions of this biennial tournament, and expectations are high that they’ll repeat their previous successes in Vientiane. Anything less will be regarded as a failure.

In matches between the two countries in SEA Games competition, Thailand have won five and drawn once, with their last meeting in 2007 seeing the Thais trounce Cambodia 8-0. In Teerasil Dangda and Kirati Keawsombut, they have two strikers who are big, strong and mobile and will cause any defence problems, while captain Kiatprawut Saiwaeo is rock solid in the heart of the Thai back four, having previously had trials at English side Manchester City.

On Sunday, Cambodia face the SEA Games minnows East Timor, who were on the wrong end of a record-breaking 11-0 defeat by Malaysia Wednesday. The game will take place at the new national stadium under floodlights, with a 5:45pm kick-off time. “They [Timor Leste] didn’t have much organisation,” O’Donell said. “I thought they were pretty poor to be honest. They were completely outclassed, men against boys. Some of them just arrived this morning, and you have to question their preparation, but I’m sure they’ll get better as the tournament progresses.” This is a must win game for Cambodia if they are to harbour thoughts of progressing to the semi finals as one of the two qualifying teams from Group A. The match will be broadcast live on Thai Channel NBT.
Probable Cambodia line-up:
Samreth Seiha, Pheak Rady, Sun Sovannarith (capt), Tieng Tiny, Sok Rithy, San Narith, Chhun Sothearath, Khim Borey, Keo Sokngorn, Chan Chhaya, Kuoch Sokumpheak.

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Starting XI

The likely Cambodian starting eleven to face the Thailand in Group A of the SEA Games this afternoon will look like this (with their shirt number).
1 - Samreth Seiha
3 - Pheak Rady
18 - Sun Sovannarith (captain)
4 - Tieng Tiny
15 - Sok Rithy
8 - San Narith
16 - Chhun Sothearath
12 - Keo Sokngorn
7 - Khim Borey
9 - Chan Chhaya
10 - Kuoch Sokumpheak

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Sweaty palms

It is just six hours to go until kick-off and I am like a cat on a hot tin roof. If I'm like this, what the hell must the Cambodian youngsters who will take on the bigger, stronger and more experienced Thai team, be like. I just spoke to coach Scott O'Donell and the team is in good shape, they have a team meeting to discuss their final preparations at 11am, they'll eat a light lunch at noon and then leave the Games Village for Vientiane at 12.45pm. The game will be played right around the corner from my guesthouse at the Chao Anouvong Stadium in central Vientiane. As the stadium only seats 5,000 spectators, tickets for the match will be at a premium because of the intense support for Vietnam, who will play in the second game, against Timor Leste at 5.45pm. I know that a handful of Cambodian supporters who live in Vientiane will be there, but I'm expecting the crowd to be overwhelmingly Thai and Vietnamese. The game will be screened live in Laos and Thailand but only highlights will be available in Cambodia on TV5 and Apsara.
The current political turmoil between Cambodia and Thailand, which is at an all-time low, and the furore over the ownership of Preah Vihear adds to the spice of this encounter but it's the two football teams who will do the talking on the pitch. The last time they met was in Khorat in 2007 when Thailand thumped Cambodia 8-0 but that was a different team, different players and Cambodia have gained a lot of confidence over the past few months. Today will give us an indication as to whether they are ready to step up to the next level and share the platform with the big boys of Asian football, Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam.
The rivalry isn't just on the pitch either. The two coaches, Scott O'Donell for Cambodia and Steve Darby for Thailand, have a history too. They have both worked in Southeast Asia for a while, Scott as a player and coach, Darby concentrating on the coaching side. Both of them have been pundits on the ESPN sports channel. They came face to face in the Singapore League in 2003 when Scott coached Geylang United and Darby was in charge of Home United. Though Darby's team carried off the S-League and cup double, Scott was made Coach of the Year, after taking his unfancied team to a close second place, beaten cup finalists and the following season, the semis of the AFC Cup. Known for his tough discipline and almost brutal physical fitness drills, his former Geylang goalkeeping coach Dez Corkhill says; ''Scott has a very uncomplicated philosophy. You're either with him or against him. If you're with him, he'll back you in any situation.'' And that's what the young Cambodian players can expect from their Australian-born coach, he'll back them to the hilt if they are prepared to give 100% in return.

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

3 in one

So you can keep up to date, on-line, with my Phnom Penh Post articles, here's a link to three of my mine that are in today's paper, as well as the articles reprinted below.
U23 spirits high in Vientiane here
O'Donell happy with accommodation in Laos here
Tournament favourites aim for SEA Games final here.

U23 spirits high in Vientiane
The Cambodian U23 national team remain focused and confident ahead of their SEA Games opening match Friday against eight-time gold medalists Thailand.

We are just a day away from the Cambodian U23 national team’s opening match as they fly the flag for their country at the 25th Southeast Asian Games in Vientiane. Football is the first competition to begin at the Games, and the Cambodian players arrived in the Athletes Village Sunday evening, after a tough two-day overland journey from Phnom Penh. Drawn in Group A alongside the heavily fancied Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia, and also East Timor, everyone has already written off Cambodia’s chances of progressing. Instead the opening game of Group A, Thailand against Vietnam, is expected to be the composition of the final on December 17. That’s assuming, of course, that Cambodia will roll over and provide the expected easy pickings for the higher-ranked teams, though anyone who witnessed the performance levels of the Cambodian team in the recent BIDC Cup tournament in Phnom Penh may have other ideas, and that includes the players themselves.

Thailand, the SEA Games football champions for the last eight competitions, will provide the opposition in Cambodia’s first game Friday. For an opening match, they don’t come any harder, but there’s a real strength of character and resilience about the Cambodian team under Scott O’Donell’s stewardship, and the players are determined to carry on the high standards they set themselves in the BIDC Cup. Victories over V-Leaguers HAGL (twice) and Laos U23s gave the Cambodian team a huge confidence boost after their first match under O’Donell ended in a 6-0 drubbing by Singapore. Capturing the BIDC Cup in front of 30,000 of their own ecstatic supporters has breathed a sense of purpose and pride into the young Cambodians, and six weeks’ intensive training in Vietnam has only served to cement that collective unity.

Reflecting on their BIDC success, Cambodia’s captain, Sun Sovannarith spoke for his teammates when he said: “I felt so happy that we won and proud that the team’s performance has improved so much. The victory has given us great confidence for the SEA Games.” The scorer of the winning goal in the BIDC Cup final was popular striker Kuoch Sokumpheak, and he too expressed his pleasure. “I was very happy when I scored the winning goal. I felt happy for myself and felt proud for my country. I think the victory lifted the soul of the nation because of our football success.” His strike partner, and one of the youngest players in the squad, Keo Sokngorn was equally upbeat. “For Cambodia to win, it made me so happy that we became champions of the BIDC Cup,” he stated. “All our players played very hard and very well. And it felt good to play in front of so many people at the Olympic Stadium.”

That was then, and this is now as Cambodia prepare to face a Thai team under the direction of Englishman Steve Darby, who is assistant to national team boss Bryan Robson. Expectation is high that the nation will add another SEA Games gold medal to their collection, but try telling that to the Cambodian players. “Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia are all good teams but I don’t worry about playing against them,” remarked teenage Keo Sokngorn, who is also the captain of the national U17 team. “All I know is that I will play hard and my best. I want to win.” Kouch Sokumpheak is similarly focused ahead of Friday. “I won’t say we will win, but I will try my best and I really want to score goals against Thailand for my country,” he asserted.

The final word goes to the captain, Sun Sovannarith, who missed the birth of his first child, a girl, on Monday because of his involvement in the SEA Games. “The difference between us and Thailand is that they are big and they understand each other very well, as they play together for a long time,” he noted. “They have more experience and they play in a very good, strong league in Thailand. Win or lose, I don’t know, but I will fight 100 percent for my country until I die.” That sense of passion and determination could just provide an upset to the competition’s hot favourites on Friday.

O'Donell happy with accommodation in Laos

Cambodia U23s coach Scott O’Donell has no complaints about the conditions at the players’ village in Vientiane.

The four group matches that Cambodia will play at the Southeast Asian Games will determine their success or otherwise, but it’s the off-the-field facilities that can be just as important to put the players in the right frame of mind before competition. Scott O’Donell, the Cambodian coach, was in charge of the team for their last SEA Games outing in Khorat, Thailand, in 2007. “The rooms at the Village are a lot better than at the last Games in Khorat,” he noted. “At least we don’t have communal showers and toilets this time around. The Village isn’t fully operational yet because the Games don’t officially open ’til later, but the food’s OK, no complaints on that score, and the accommodation is OK too, and that’s what’s important for us.”

“It would be nice to have something to keep the players occupied in their free time,” he added. “In Khorat we had a games room and Internet. Here we have nothing like that, but it’s the same for every team. At least there’s a medical room, which is good, as some of the boys have been getting some physiotherapy.” The right diet and looking after themselves is a part of the players’ preparation that O’Donell has been keen to stress. “The food is good, a wide variety, and it’s nice,” he reported. “There’s pasta, rice and veggies, and all the boys are getting stuck in. They are starting to realise the importance of their diet, and they get a lot of fruit and veggies here, which is a good thing. I’m happy with it.”

The national coach claimed that, so far, the training facilities have been a mixed bag. “The first training session at the army stadium was fine. The next two at the television facility were absolutely terrible and simply not good enough. And today was perfect. So a mix of good and bad,” he commented as the team ended their first session at the Chao Anouvong Stadium, in central Vientiane where they will play three of their four group matches. The Cambodian team watched both of the football competition's opening games Wednesday and trained for an hour Thursday morning before making their final preparations for their first match against Thailand at 3pm Friday.

Tournament favourites aim for SEA Games final
Regional football powerhouses Thailand and Vietnam drew their opening SEA Games football match 1-1 Wednesday night in Laos.

The pundits’ favourites to reach the final of the Southeast Asian Games football tournament, Vietnam and Thailand, have been given an added financial incentive to do well in the region’s top competition. Sponsors AVG have offered Vietnam’s squad prize money of US$200,000 if they win the gold medal, and half that if they pick up silver. Thailand have also been offered a big cash incentive of $170,000 to repeat their SEA Games successes of previous years. The two teams met in the opening round of matches Wednesday night at the brand new National Stadium, just outside Vientiane. A tense match saw Thailand take the lead in the 70th minute through Kirati Keawsombut, only for Vietnam to grab a last minute equaliser by Hoang Dinh Tung from the penalty spot.

Thailand have won the gold medal on the last eight occasions and are on course to repeat that feat, according to their coach, Englishman Steve Darby. “I have selected the team myself,” he stated. “I know Thailand take the SEA Games seriously, and we have a good squad. We will try to do our best to bring the gold medal back to Thailand. “Our players are excellent and their attitude is excellent. Obviously, Vietnam are strong too. We will play them first and hopefully we play them last. We will go out and try to win every game. That is a magic formula in football. You have to be self-confident and confidence is very important. We want to be confident without arrogance.”

Thailand beat Sri Lanka 2-0 in their final warm-up match before arriving in Laos. “The shape of the team now is very good,” affirmed Darby. “We had some useful warm-up matches and showed good form against Sri Lanka. The team has great potential and have garnered some good experience after playing in the Thai Premier League. “Only the goalkeeper didn’t play in the Thai Premier League last season. But he is a U19 international player. He is a great athlete, a great goalkeeper,” Darby said of Ukrit Wongmeena, who is on the books of Thai champions Muang Thong United. Darby also commented on his squad selection. “Everybody will pick a different team – that is football. Everyone will pick 20 different players. I have to make the decision based on what I think is best, I get paid for that. I listened to leading Thai coaches and international coaches and basically, they are very happy with the squad.” The Thai side is captained by defender Kiatprawut Sawaeo, one of the players who is also in the full national team along with striker Teerasil Dangda. Seven of the squad played in the successful SEA Games team that captured the gold medal in Khorat, Thailand, in 2007, with seven players coming from TPL club Chonburi and four from champions Muang Thong.

Vietnam had arrived at the SEA Games Village a day before everyone else, in order to get themselves settled in and into the right mindset. Their Portuguese coach Henrique Calisto has chosen his squad with this and the next SEA Games in mind, giving a preference to players young enough to compete in both. That has meant a handful of star names will be missing including defender Cao Cuong, a cornerstone in Danang’s V-League success year, as well as talented midfielder Van Khai, who plays for Calisto’s club side, Dong Tam Long An. “In football, there is no place for sentimentality,” said the national coach. “It is very difficult for me to choose and cut players … I wanted to ensure that our younger players have a chance to play and improve at the next SEA Games in two years.…Five of the seven cut players are good enough to join the U23 national team,” he continued. “I feel sorry for them, but we have to obey the rules. They are as good as the chosen players but the youngsters must be given a chance to advance because they are the future of the national team.” In the current Vietnam squad, only three players have previous SEA Games experience.

The match up between Thailand and Vietnam was preceded by two other teams from Group A, Malaysia against the minnows of Timor Leste. Indeed, the Timorese were made to feel very small by a rampant Malaysia that knocked in six in the first half, and five more in the second, to end the game 11-0. No less than eight different names made it on the scoresheet for Malaysia, with Ahmad Fakri Saarani netting a hat trick.

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Written off

As you might expect, if you look at Cambodia's past football record in the SEA Games, everyone and their dog has written them off, mentioning them in the same breath as Timor Leste, which is pretty galling after I watched Timor roll over and die a painful death last night, losing 11-nil to a competent Malaysia team. And Sunday will tell us whether its fair to mention the two teams in the same sentence, when they meet at the new national stadium here in Laos. If you ask me, Cambodia will murder Timor. However, Cambodia's SEA Games history in football doesn't make pretty reading: Played 30, won 3, drawn 3, lost 24. Their last win came against Myanmar, 3-1, twelve years ago. In 2007 they narrowly lost to Indonesia 3-1 in their opening match but heads dropped and they caved in to Thailand 8-0 and Myanmar 6-2 in their final two matches. Scott O'Donell was in charge in 2007 and will make sure that doesn't happen again. So what have the coaches from the other nations been saying about Cambodia? - not much as they've written them off already. Malaysia's coach K Rajagopal has said," on paper I know everyone expects us to roll over Timor Leste but I have warned my boys not to underestimate any of the opponents, including Timor Leste and Cambodia. No team must be taken lightly, even Timor and Cambodia, as we simply do not know what they have in store for us." Vietnam's Portuguese coach Henrique Calisto has told the Vietnam press that he expects his team to secure victories over East Timor and Cambodia, whilst Steve Darby, the Thailand coach, has predicted a Thailand v Vietnam final, leaving everyone else in their wake. No one has heard a peep out of the Timor Leste coach, Manuel da Costa Soares.

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Battered and bruised

Keo Sokngorn and Tieng Tiny lead the rest of the Cambodian players out of the Village
I'm just back to Vientiane after watching the opening two games of the football competition, that kicked off the 2009 SEA Games today. I got a lift to the SEA Games Village to cadge a bus ride with the Cambodian team, who had the unique opportunity to watch all four of their opponents in Group A before they have to face them. We left the Village at 2.30pm for the 3pm kick-off but heavy traffic and appalling organization meant we missed the first ten minutes of the opening game, Malaysia against Timor Leste. One official even told the team that they couldn't enter the stadium, even though each player has a pass that allows them access to every competition venue. Again, the problem of inept officialdom raised its ugly head. By the time we got through the gate, Malaysia were 2-nil ahead. They went onto win 11-0 in a very one-sided game with Ahmad Fakri Saarani getting a hat-trick and the rest of the team chipping in with the others. Timor were completely disorganized but not surprising, as some of their players only arrived in Laos this morning.
By the end of the first game, most of the new national stadium was awash in a sea of red shirts. The expat Vietnamese population in Laos had turned out in force, over 40,000 of them, and they were making themselves heard even above the ridiculously loud public address. The two red-hot favourites were squaring up to each other in Group A, Thailand against Vietnam, and at times, some of the tackles resembled a street fight. It was no holds barred and an inept referee didn't help matters either. The game see-sawed with Thailand on top and then Vietnam coming back into it before the Thais took the lead on 72 minutes when Kirati Keawsombut fired in a loose ball. With just two minutes to go, the Indian referee spotted a push in the box and awarded Vietnam a penalty. Their celebrations would've graced a World Cup win, even before the kick was taken. Substitute Hoang Dinh Tung kept his head to score and send the whole ground into raptures. 1-1 it ended, honours were shared, and most of the players battered and bruised. I think it was a fair result. There was much less hassle leaving the stadium than getting into it and I got a lift back to town from my good friend Phalla, who had driven out to pick me up from the Village. The Cambodian team got to see what they are up against in their four group matches, they will train tonmorrow afternoon and then they open their account against Thailand on Friday, just around the corner from my guesthouse. How's that for service.
My article, The long road to Vientiane, appeared in today's Phnom Penh Post here.
The players on their way to the opening SEA Games games
The Cambodian players watch the opening matches in the national stadium
The players trying to ignore the camera
Mixing with some Malaysian supporters in yellow
The guys turn their back on me
The national stadium, bathed in sunlight, for the Malaysia v Timor Leste match
Here's the proof, if you didn't believe my match report
The Vietnam and Thailand teams warm-up
Some of the 40,000 crowd, most of which were of Vietnamese origin
Thailand in blue, Vietnam in white, take to the field
The pitch is bathed in the excellent floodlighting at the national stadium

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Vietnam overkill

You've got to love this story in the VietNamNet Bridge website, which puts the Cambodian press in the shadows. As far as I can make out I'm the only official press journalist from Cambodia covering the football competition at the moment. And it looks like I'm going to have my work cut out getting a word in edgeways with the hordes of Vietnamese reporters that have descended on the SEA Games. At the last count over 300, yes 300, Vietnamese journalists are already in town, to cover the football and the other sporting competitions, which begin on 9 December. VTV has sent 180 reporters and sub-editors, whilst VTV television, who covered the BIDC Cup in Phnom Penh recently, have sent 80 reporters and technicians, with another 40 staff covering the Games back in Vietnam. I think you can safely say they are taking this competition very seriously. On Monday morning I collected my press pass and I think it was the first one to be issued, though as soon as I collected it, a fleet of Vietnamese cars pulled up, camera-clicking journalists piled into the press center and all hell let loose. They took a picture of everything that moved, and didn't move, including my press pass. They didn't understand why a barang was covering the Games for Cambodia.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Getting a feel for it

A final stretch on the running track surrounding the Chao Anouvong pitch for Sokumpheak, Sovannarith, Tiny and Sokngorn
Tieng Tiny gets some ice treatment on his knee after training ends
This afternoon the Cambodian football team had their first training session on the Chao Anouvong surface in Vientiane and found it in good nick. Light years better than the television headquarters pitch they trained on earlier in the day, and yesterday, and which simply wasn't good enough. In bright sunshine and watched by about fifty interested spectators, the whole squad trained for just over an hour, finishing the session with shooting, corners and free-kick practice. Earlier they had played a match between themselves, with coach Scott O'Donell halting play when he wanted to make a point. The one that kept recurring was his desire for his team to talk more, and to prove the point he got Pheak Rady and Khim Borey to shake hands, by way of introduction. The team take the training sessions seriously and the lighthearted, half-serious point was well-made. The team manager's meeting was held today at the National University complex but was held up as Timor Leste arrived late, which they have done at previous competitions. Attending for Cambodia were team manager Vann Ly and assistant coach Bouy Dary, while Scott stayed with the team for the two training sessions. Tomorrow the squad will train in the morning and then get along to the new National Stadium to watch both of the Group A matches taking place, with Malaysia v Timor Leste starting at 3pm (and literally kicking off the 25th SEA Games) and Thailand against Vietnam at 5.45pm. These two matches give Scott and his team the opportunity to see all four opponents in action, assess their style and identify key players ahead of their match-up with Thailand on Friday, on the very same Chao Anouvong pitch they trained on today. I'm getting sweaty palms just thinking about it.
A stretch down at the end of training allows for a few smiles
Shooting practice with Pheak Rady on target
Tieng Tiny takes a pass from Scott and prepares to shoot
In a five a side game Khuon Laboravy displays his left foot prowess
The game continues as Khuon Laboravy questions the referee's decision
Lorn Sotheara (20) slides into a tackle on Sok Rithy
Scott bellows more instructions to the players in today's practice session
Important stretching for the two keepers, Sou Yaty and Samreth Seiha, with goalkeeping coach Prak Vanny
The goalkeepers warm up whilst the outfield players get on with it
Stetching and a good warm-up is necessary before training begins
Forget the ball for the start of the warm-up at Chao Anouvong this afternoon
A Roy of the Rovers style statue at the front of Chao Anouvong Stadium

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A few more photos

The Chao Anouvong Stadium in Vientiane - the venue for 3 of Cambodia's 4 games
Another view of the Chao Anouvong, which is just around the corner from my guesthouse
Scott O'Donell issues instructions to his players at training
Time for another interview for Cambodia's coach
The Hotel Mailia in Pakse, and our Laos bus with police escort
Cambodia meets Laos at the border crossing
Sign writers in Laos have been having a field day, signs like these are everywhere
Our Cambodian bus looks better than it was!

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Apologies to interviewees

A football coach's nightmare - me!
Tep Phany from the FFC caught me in mid-sentence whilst I was interviewing Cambodian football coach Scott O'Donell recently, and its definitely not a pretty sight. Apologies to Scott and anyone else who has to look at my ugly mug whilst I'm interviewing them.
Also here are photos of my SEA Games press pass, which is a effectively my ticket into all competition venues, every nook and cranny of the SEA Games. They incorrectly classified me as a photographer and they spelt the name of the Phnom Penh Post incorrectly, but hey, this is Laos and not everything (anything?) goes to plan. On that front, the buses to the venues that are loudly announced in the media handouts aren't running. And no-one knows when they will begin. And Vientiane is not like Phnom Penh, there's not a motodop on every corner, in fact there aren't any at all. I can either take an overpriced, money-grabbing tuk-tuk or a song thaw, though the latter can be hard to track down, to the media center or the Games Village, which are 5km (I reckon its about 10kms) and 12kms away respectively.
My SEA Games press ID card
A run-down of what access I have, which is pretty wide-ranging