Friday, February 26, 2010


I'm at a crossroads. For a long while I've resisted the urge to separate my daily blog postings from my football-related posts. Afterall they are part of my life here in Cambodia, even if many people switch off and scroll straight past my football output. However, I do understand the anti-football comments I receive and have been wrestling with the decision about whether to separate them for a while now. And I still can't decide (though I'm edging towards a 2nd blog solely for football). We're not yet into the full flow of the Cambodian football season, just a bunch of cup ties before the season starts properly in a few weeks time, so recent reports have been sporadic and usually at the weekends. Tomorrow for example, the Hun Sen Cup semi-finals will take place at Olympic Stadium with Phnom Penh Crown versus Naga and National Defense Ministry meeting Preah Khan Reach. I'll blog the results, as well as write them up for the Phnom Penh Post, and then make a final decision as to whether I should set up a separate football blog. As for the cup finalists, I'm in favour of a Naga versus National Defense final but I have an inkling that Preah Khan will prove too strong for the Army team in the 2nd of tomorrow's semis.

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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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Saturday, November 14, 2009

In the world

I'm not convinced that anyone really worries too much about the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings in football but they are always interesting to take a quick peeop at. In the current rankings, Cambodia lie in 171st place, one spot below Laos and one above Mongolia. The lack of national A team games means that we're treading water at the moment, the Under23 matches don't count. Regionally, Australia top the Asia Zone. Teams like Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia and Myanmar are well ahead of Cambodia. The five teams sitting immediately above us are Laos, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Chinese Taipei. The five teams immediately below us are Mongolia, Nepal, Palestine, Brunei Darussalam and Guam. Not exactly names to strike fear into the hearts of the countries who top the table. The top 3 in the world at the moment are Brazil, Spain and Netherlands. England are 7th behind Argentina and Germany. Grrrhh.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

My players learnt a lot

Cambodian national U-19 coach Prak Sovannara
At Wednesday's CPL games at the Olympic Stadium, I grabbed a few minutes with the U-19's coach to get his thoughts on how their recent tournament in Vietnam panned out.

The Cambodian Under-19 football coach, Prak Sovannara, the only A-licensed coach in the country and the man in charge of the full national team for much of the past year, has had time to reflect on the recent Asean Football Federation (AFF) U-19 Championships and the performances of his teenage charges. Although Cambodia lost all three games they played in their group A matches last week, two of those games were against the eventual finalists and all three nations they came up against are much further forward in their youth development programmes than Cambodia are. In fact Cambodia ’s youth development is very much at the fledgling stage and the coach managed to get the squad together for just a few sessions before they crossed the border into Vietnam a week before the tournament, held in Ho Chi Minh City , to work on some last minute tactical and teamwork issues.
Cambodia lined-up against bitter rivals and U-19 champions Thailand in their first game and Sovannara was pleased with their application. “My team did a great job, were well organised and we only went behind to a mistake that the Thais took advantage of. After half-time we missed a great chance to equalise and then lost our centre-half, who was sent off. After that, we struggled with the pace of the game and lost 3-0,” said the team coach.
Two days later they faced Singapore and put up a showing that Sovannara was proud of. Though they lost 3-1, the coach commented; “We played so well in the first half and led 1-nil at the interval, though a goal from [Prak Mony] Udom. We pushed forward at the start of the second half to get another but our goalkeeper made a mistake and we were punished again. After the previous game, my players were very tired and found it hard to keep up with Singapore .”
“In our final game we faced more tough opponents, Australia. There were no easy games in this competition. We conceded two goals in two minutes just before half time and that was it really. We were physically and mentally tired and couldn’t get back into the game despite giving our best,” said the man who is also technical director at Preah Khan Reach, who’ve led the Cambodian Premier League for much of the current season.
“We did our best and I was very pleased with the first half performances in all three matches, we showed great spirit and togetherness and our technical ability matched our opponents. But it was noticeable that we couldn’t sustain the speed and intensity of the games. Our physical strength was not up to it and it’s clear to me that the leagues in which the other teams play are stronger and faster,” bemoaned the coach. “My players learnt a lot from the competition, which is important, and they will take away the fact that their performance levels have to last for the whole game and not just for the first half of matches. I was happy with my squad and in Prak Mony Udom and Keo Sokngorn, I had two players in particular who were confident and strong and who impressed me very much.”
There are no more U-19 level matches on the calendar this year though quite a few of the players are expected to feature in the Under-23 squad for the SEA Games in Laos in December, when it’s announced by the national coach Scott O’Donell sometime soon. The Cambodia Football Federation have already lined up one friendly fixture for the U-23s, when they welcome their much-fancied Singapore counterparts to the Olympic Stadium on Sunday, 27 September.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

On the grapevine

Still no progress on loading photos with my blog postings.
Just received an invite for the soft opening this coming Saturday of the new Lotus Blanc Restaurant, about fifty metres from the Hanuman office on St 51 in Boeung Keng Kang 1. Lotus Blanc is the hotel and restaurant training facility that is housed at the PSE center in Stung Meanchey, which has been providing skills and employment opportunities for children from families making a living from the municipal rubbish dump for the last few years. This second restaurant will be open for breakfast and lunch only and will be used as another training facility for the youngsters. I've tasted the food at the original restaurant and if this is just as good, it'll be a nice option for lunchtimes.
I've just confirmed my place on the Mekong Discovery Trail (MDT) 'fam' trip on 21-24 August. Its a venture by the Ministry of Tourism/SNV to generate interest and awareness of the MDT by taking private sector tour operators to see what the MDT has to offer and to see how we can incorporate that into what we offer our clients. It's certainly an area that Hanuman is very interested in, so I'm keen to make the trip. The program includes visits to Kratie, Stung Treng, Preah Rumkel, the Sopheak Mitt waterfall near the border with Laos, the Anlung Cheuteal dolphin pool and the island of Koh Trong. Should be an enjoyable adventure. Obviously I'll fill you in on the details after the event. Hopefully with some photos, he said sarcastically!
Forgot to mention yesterday that the Cambodian U-23 national football team will be hosting a friendly match against the Singapore U-23s on Sunday 27th September as part of their preparation for the SEA Games in December. Coach Scott O'Donell has his 25-man squad in mind, though it's not yet been publicly announced, and is likely to be reduced to a 20-man squad to take to Laos for the tournament itself.
Finally, just had a whisper that the folks from the Khmer Arts Ensemble, out at Takhmau, will be performing as part of a festival run by the French Cultural Center, at the Chenla Theatre on Monday 7th September. The Khmer Arts dancers are a professional touring troupe so this will be classical Cambodian dance at its very best. More details to follow when I get them.

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Friday, August 7, 2009

Experience is the key

The Cambodian U-19 line-up versus Singapore (pic courtesy of Prak Sovannara)
Commiserations to the Cambodian U-19 football team who are in Saigon and competing in the AFF U-19 Youth Championships. Drawn in the same group with the stronger footballing nations of Australia, Thailand and Singapore, it was always a mountain to climb to progress through the group stages and so it has turned out. They lost their opening game 3-0 to Thailand on Tuesday and then yesterday, went down 3-1 to Singapore. They will end their tournament against the Australian teenagers on Saturday before returning home. In yesterday's encounter they led after 17 minutes when Preah Khan youngster Prak Mony Udom (pictured) nosed them in front but it it went awry after the half-time interval. Singapore charged back into the game, levelling on 57 minutes and scoring two more in the last ten minutes. In addition to the defeat, Cambodia also suffered a goalkeeping loss when substitute stopper Sou Yaty (Ministry of National Defense) was sent to hospital late on after dislocating his shoulder. It never rains but it pours. The important thing for the squad is to soak up the tournament experience, much the same as the full national team did in the Suzuki Cup last year.

On an entirely separate subject. I received a package from the post office today which was sent to me from Australia exactly five months ago, by recorded airmail. We check our post office box a few times each week so it hasn't been lying around there, instead its been mislaid in transit for the last five months - where... goodness knows. It contained a dvd of the documentary film The Tenth Dancer from 360 Degree Films, sent to me to screen at Meta House. Fortunately, I was able to get another copy from a separate source but it makes me wonder how much more goes missing that I'm not aware of. If you do send me anything, via the Hanuman PO box number, send a confirmatory email as well please.

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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Dent in national pride

The Cambodian U-19 national football team played their opening match in the AFF U-19 Youth Championships in Saigon Tuesday afternoon. I previewed the tournament here. With former national coach Prak Sovannara in charge, the U-19's have been in Saigon for a week or so fine tuning themselves for the championships and are in a real tough group A alongside Australia, Singapore and Thailand. It was the latter who they faced in their first game of the round-robin group matches. And Cambodia were beaten 3-0 by their bitter rivals, whilst Singapore drew 1-1 against Australia. Cambodia went behind a few minutes before half-time and then lost red-carded Ministry of National Defense centre-half Thong Oudom (pictured) after 57 minutes, making their task an impossible one. So it proved when Thailand added further goals in the 73rd minute and six minutes from time. In Group B, hosts Vietnam beat Malaysia 2-0 while Myanmar were awarded a 3-0 win for a walkover following Timor Leste's failure to arrive in time. The 3-nil reversal leaves Cambodia with a mountain to climb to progress through the group stage. They now face Singapore Thursday (6 August) and Australia, the joint favourites, on Saturday (8 August). With the odds stacked against them, the U-19 players need to take every ounce of tournament experience they can from these three games as quite a few of them will be called up again soon as part of the U-23 squad to take part in the SEA Games in December.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Press article

Today's Phnom Penh Post carries my article on the Cambodian U-19 national team that is now in Vietnam preparing for the Asean U-19 youth championships.
Here are the links to the PPP website for my match reports from the games played on Saturday and Sunday.

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Cambodia's stars of the future

The scene is set for the giantkilling of all time as the cream of Cambodia's budding young football hopefuls take on the young stars from Australia, Thailand and Singapore in the Asean Football Federation Under-19 Youth Championships in Saigon next week. Okay, so it's highly unlikely that Cambodia will progress from their group matches against the countries mentioned above, but there's always hope, as national U-19 coach Prak Sovannara (pictured) explains. "I have a good squad, all of the players bar one are with CPL teams and play regularly as well as train full time. I know its a tall order but at youth level I believe we can give a good account of ourselves. I've selected 20 players and we are going to Vietnam a little early so we can get together, train together and play a couple of practice games before it starts for real." Sovannara has spent the last year as coach to the full national team and took them to the Suzuki Cup finals, as well as using his know-how to guide Preah Khan Reach to the top of the CPL, as their technical advisor. If anyone can get the U-19's fired up and ready for the biggest challenge of their budding careers, Sovannara can.
The squad left Phnom Penh at 6am today, taking the overland route to Saigon, where they will prepare themselves for the tournament that begins on 4 August and involves three games in five days. Cambodia will face Thailand in their opening Group A game on 4 August and then meet Singapore on 6 August and Australia two days later, on 8 August. After some drop-outs, there are just two groups, with the winners and runners-up moving onto the semi finals on 10 August and the final on 12 August. Notwithstanding the coach's optimistic view, progress from the group stage would be a fantastic achievement for the Cambodian youngsters who number Phnom Penh Crown's wonder-kid Keo Sokngorn (pictured) amongst their ranks. Also included in the 20-man squad are two of the CPL's best goalkeepers this season, Peng Bunchhay and Sou Yaty. A number of the U-19 squad are also likely to feature in the U-23 squad that national coach Scott O'Donell will announce later this week.
With the Ministry of National Defense, Phnom Penh Crown and Preah Khan Reach providing the bulk of the U-19 squad for the tournament, CPL matches involving those three teams will be re-scheduled according to FFC Deputy Secretary May Tola. Prak Sovannara also indicated that the Australians would be sending their U-17 team to compete and he felt that at youth level, Cambodia have nothing to fear from Thailand and Singapore. Fighting talk indeed and if his optimism rubs off onto the players, we might just see that giantkilling I mentioned earlier. The full squad is as follows: Peng Bunchhay, Soeng Vanthan, Keo Sokngorn, Touch Pacharong, Hong Rathana (all Phnom Penh Crown), Sou Yaty, Thong Oudom, Lorn Sotheara, Phuong Soksana, Khek Khemarin, Oum Kumpheak (all Ministry of Defense), Chhun Veasna (Kong Reach Sey), Tum Saray, Prak Mony Udom, Suon Makara, Sok Chanraksmey, Sok Vannak (all Preah Khan Reach), Nhim Sovannara, Ek Vannak (BBU), Seng Komsen (Spark). Coaches: Prak Sovannara, Tep Long Rachana, Ouk Chomrong, Phea Sopheaktra.

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Monday, July 6, 2009

Sovannara leads from the front

Improved coaching will be one very important step towards football in Cambodia getting on a par with some of the better countries in the Asian region such as Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore. The Asian Football Confederation, as the governing body of the sport in the region, organises regular coaching courses at all levels for the coaches of the future in the countries under its jurisdiction. Cambodia is no exception and a very welcome AFC 'C' coaching certificate course began at the National Sports Complex today. Led by Cambodia's only AFC Regional Instructor, Prak Sovannara (pictured), until recently the country's national coach, this will give 30 Khmer participants, drawn from Phnom Penh and the provinces, not only invaluable experience but also the opportunity to continue their coaching education and a shot at the 'B' and 'A' licences in the future. Sovannara is the only Khmer 'A' qualified coach. The course will last from today until 20 July and all the participants must already hold a 'D' licence or received exemption. Included amongst the roster for this course is Van Piseth, who has just been included in the coaching line-up for the Cambodian national team under the new boss, Scott O'Donell. It is vital that the coaches who qualify from the course then take their technical and tactical knowledge into the schools, junior clubs and senior teams within the Cambodian Premier League, to begin the grassroots steps needed to make that much-needed improvement in Cambodian football. They have a long way to go but as the Cambodian proverb says, 'a journey of 10,000 miles begins with one step.'
Prak Sovannara will also soon begin the task of putting together a squad of under-19 players to represent Cambodia at the AFF U19 Youth championships in Vietnam in early August. He was the national youth team coach before he took on the top job for a year and saw Cambodia through to the Suzuki Cup finals at the end of 2008. Now that Scott O'Donell has returned as national coach, Sovannara has resumed his duties with the under-19s and will select 25 players from the current crop of talented youth players with teams in the Cambodian Premier League. The U19 championships will take place in Saigon from 4-16 August and Cambodia have been drawn in a tough-looking Group B that also includes Australia, Thailand and Laos. They will begin on 5 August against Thailand at Thanh Long Stadium and then meet Laos on the 8th and Australia on the 11th.

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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Looking ahead

Cambodia's national coach Scott O'Donell, looking ahead to the SEA Games in December

Shaping the future of Cambodian football - by Andy Brouwer, Phnom Penh Post

Former national players Van Piseth and Bouy Dary have joined the national team coach O'Donell to develop Cambodian talent

Recently appointed Cambodian national football coach Scott O'Donell has selected the men he wants to help him shape the future of Cambodia’s national team. Van Piseth and Bouy Dary are no strangers to the international set-up, as both worked with O’Donell in 2007, the last year of his previous stint in charge of the national team. All three have been running their experienced collective eyes over the ten teams in the Cambodian Premier League (CPL) for the first half of the current campaign in order to identify the cream of the country’s young talent.

O’Donell is very happy with his choices. “Both Piseth and Dary were with me before," he said. "I trust and respect them. Both were national team players and have a good knowledge of the game, and we already have a mutual understanding of what we want to achieve. ” Van Piseth, 47, was a national player for Cambodia for three years during the mid-1980s, playing most of his football for the Army team before beginning his coaching career at Khemara. He is due to take his AFC C-Licence coaching certificate next month. Bouy Dary, 23, was assistant to the last national coach, Prak Sovannara, and is one of the younger generation of coaches in Cambodia, currently plying his trade with Phnom Penh Crown. He played under O’Donell in the SEA Games in 2005 whilst with the Royal Navy team, and already has his C-Licence. A third appointment is Prak Sovanny as the goalkeeping coach, a role he had under the previous national set-up.

“The next stage is to get a squad together, with the SEA Games in Laos in December as the next major challenge,” stated O’Donell. “I want to put on a series of trials for around 40 players in the last three weeks of July at the Olympic Stadium, with a view to whittling that down to a squad of 25. Then I’d like to get the squad with me a couple of times a week during August and September, which is why I met with the CPL coaches a couple of weeks ago, as I need their cooperation. I’d be concentrating on their technical and tactical awareness rather than their stamina until the end of the current season.” The 42-year-old Australian is also looking to cement his squad’s preparation for the Under-23 SEA tournament with a couple of friendly international matches and two training camps away in Korea and Vietnam.

Last week, O’Donell, the former AFC Director of Coach Education, went back to Kuala Lumpur to help conduct a joint AFC and FIFA course aimed at developing quality regional coach instructors throughout Asia. Also attending the course was Prak Sovannara, who is now employed as technical coach to XPL leaders Preah Khan Reach. Prak Sovannara will head a two-week AFC C-Licence course in Cambodia, starting July 7, for thirty prospective home-grown coaches. Meanwhile, Scott O’Donell has just flown to the Cayman Islands for a six-day FIFA coaching course he will instruct, a booking that was arranged before he took on his new role as the Cambodian coach.

Assistant coach Van Piseth is no stranger to the national set-up
Maintaining continuity, Bouy Dary was assistant coach in the last national set-up

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Shaping the future

My article in today's Phnom Penh Post on the new faces in the national football team's coaching staff
Note: The article is online at the Phnom Penh Post here.

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Life's a doddle

On the cards for tonight is a quiet night in with a good book, actually I have a pile of good books that I still haven't read, quite a number of which have been sent to me by publishers requesting a review of their latest publication, so I'd better get my finger out. That also includes the Dengue Fever DVD Sleepwalking Through the Mekong, which I've watched a couple of times now and still haven't penned a review - although everyone and their dog seems to have already reviewed it. So I have a list of tasks already lined up for tonight. Tomorrow it's work and football in that order. Phnom Penh Crown take on Spark FC and bottom club Phuchung Neak face the Defense Ministry at Olympic Stadium from 2pm onwards. My weekly diet of football is adequately feeding my football fever at the moment although we are coming up to the mid-season break and and I'm not sure I'll be able to cope with the withdrawal symptoms. I won't be able to make the games on Sunday as I have an early start, 6.30am to be precise, to get to Kien Svay for the day-long engagement party for my friend Sokheng. And then on Monday night it's the 1st showing in Cambodia of a film that I can't tell you its name - as we're keeping it under wraps until the 7pm start at Meta House gets underway. Somewhere in between I've got to fit in eating and sleeping and the other daily routines of life though having a cleaner like Chrep, who comes round three mornings every week to do my washing, ironing and cleaning, does make my domestic life a doddle. Before I forget, an update on my medical condition - so far so good, pills and cream working well, my skin is looking healthy again and we seem to be on the right track. But I'm not counting my blessings just yet.

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Caught on camera

This is the moment before each game when the competing teams line up for a team photo - I'm the one in the middle with the stylish shorts. Nick Sells
Here are some photos from Saturday's action at the Olympic Stadium. My thanks to photographer Nick Sells who is the resident snapper at the Cambodia Premier League games played at the stadium every weekend. His pictures regularly appear in the Phnom Penh Post newspaper as well as the popular Pocket Guides. Link; Nick Sells
A titanic tussle between Preah Khan Reach's Saidu and Naga's Sunday Patrick Okonkwo (11) Nick Sells
The Naga players are sent away by the referee as he discusses a disputed goal in Saturday's match. The protests worked as the goal was given. Nick Sells

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Inspired by Sokumpheak

Kouch Sokumpheak is on red-hot form just now for Khemara Keila
Last week it was a hat-trick of goals, this weekend it was a hat-trick of assists, and a goal for Khemara Keila's wonder striker Kouch Sokumpheak, without doubt the hottest property of Cambodian origin in the Cambodia Premier League right now. He was on fire again today as Khemara piled on the pressure and they'd netted five goals at half-time against a hapless Spark FC. It was a much less frantic affair after the interval and Spark pulled a goal back to make the final score 5-2. They had in fact opened the scoring through the league's joint top scorer Justine Prince after 3 minutes. Sokumpheak, who is the other joint top scorer in the CPL, was the pivotal figure around which Khemara dominated the first 45 minutes, working in tandem with his Nigerian forward partner Ali Anthony to run the Spark defense ragged. Anthony bagged a couple of goals, Bunvicheth and Olatunde got the others and they could even afford defender Chan Dara getting sent off late on. I checked with national coach Scott O'Donell that Sokumpheak is still eligible for the under-23 team that will play in the SEA Games and we reckon he is - what a relief!
Sokumpheak (back row, far right) is the proud captain of the Khemara Keila team
2 goals for Khemara Keila's Nigerian striker Alichigozie Anthony
By comparison, the first game on Sunday afternoon - Build Bright v Ministry of National Defense - was of a far more sedate pace and the goalless scoreline is a perfect reflection of a match without any serious goalmouth action to get excited about. The only note I made during the game was the last-minute sending off of Defense Ministry's defender Pheak Rady. For the record, the Defense Ministry were without the injured Khim Borey whilst goalkeeper Samreth Seiha came on a few seconds before half-time for the injured Sou Yaty. I can't fathom the team selections of the Defense's coach, so I won't even begin to try.
Samreth Seiha, Cambodia's No 1 was on the Defense Ministry bench at the start of today's game - no wonder he's not looking best pleased
Build Bright in white and Defense Ministry take to the pitch in front of an empty stadium - I think they knew what the next 90 mins was going to bring

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Scott seeks help

Cambodia's national football coach, Scott O'Donell
On Monday morning the new Cambodian national football coach Scott O'Donell will gather together the head coaches from all ten of the Cambodia Premier League teams at the National Sports Center outside the capital to lay before them his vision of how the country's national team can improve under him and with their support. He views the buy-in from the CPL's coaches as an important necessity to ensure the release of players selected, notification of injuries, availability for squad training sessions, the whole gamut of situations where the national coach will need their co-operation. It's a sensible and necessary development as Scott begins the build-up to the next tournament, the SEA Games in Laos in December. He can be found sitting in the stands at each of the CPL games, running his expert eye over all of the available Cambodian talent in each of the ten CPL teams. And no doubt his conversations with the head coaches will identify the players he already has in mind, and elicit their suggestions of a few more. The naming of his backroom coaching team is imminent and work is also going on to secure friendly matches and practice games ahead of the SEA tournament at the end of the year.

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Saturday, June 13, 2009

Way too hot for football

Meas Channa's inswinging goal direct from a corner gave Naga a share of the points
Preah Khan Reach remain top of the CPL pile, despite a 2-2 draw with Naga
Points were shared as Cambodia Premier League leaders Preah Khan Reach drew 2-2 with 3rd-placed Naga Corp, though both teams felt aggrieved with two second-half goals. Olisa Emeka Onyemerea netted twice for PKR, his second was a tap-in on the line, looking offside to everyone in the Olympic Stadium except the linesman. For Naga, Om Thavrak scored with a bullet header to make it 1-1 at the interval, and on 70 minutes, Meas Channa's corner went straight in to make it all square. Initially the linesman waved his flag but after being surrounded and hounded by Naga players, changed his mind and put his flag down. Honours even. In the second game of a scorching afternoon, Kirivong looked unimpressive in beating bottom club Phuchung Neak, who made a good fist of it. In fact Pov Samnang gave them the lead only for Kirivong's Juliuos Chukwumeka to score both sides of the interval to give his side a 2-1 success. My peanut fantasy seller was there again, but I'm under doctor's orders to resist nuts. It's like holding a glass of cold water in front of a man dying of thirst.
Naga Corp shaded the 1st half but had to settle for a 2-2 draw against Preah Khan Reach
Kirivong's 2-goal hero Juliuos Chukwumeka
Spare a thought for bottom club Phuchung Neak, with just 1 point from 7 games
Two of the younger spectators - I think she's being friendly!


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Seiha back in the groove

Samreth Seiha (in black) in action yesterday against his national teammate Sun Sovannarith (18): Pic courtesy of Nick Sells
Although his team lost 3-nil to Naga in yesterday afternoon's midweek Cambodia Premier League fixture at the Olympic Stadium, I was relieved to see goalkeeper Samreth Seiha back between the posts for the National Defense Ministry team. Seiha (right) is a brilliant young goalkeeper, brave, agile, a great shop stopper, in my opinion the best I've seen in the whole of the CPL and his absence from the league campaign until yesterday has been a scandal. We need the country's best players playing regularly to give the new national coach Scott O'Donell the chance to select his best under-23 team for the SEA Games later this year, as that team will form the basis of the national team going forwards. And Seiha is the best. He's still only 19 years old, has been a national team regular for a while now and O'Donell rates him as highly as I do. I hope the stupidity that saw him sidelined for the first few games this season is now forgotten and he, and his fellow Defense Ministry striker Khim Borey, can be left to get on with doing what they do best, stopping and scoring goals. I wrote about Seiha during last year's Suzuki Cup games and here's my article. I would still love him to get some top-notch professional coaching under his belt, and my choice would be in the UK. It would be immensely valuable to him and the national team if he could spend a whole pre-season with a top club in the Premiership, and if I had the cash I'd send him there. I want us to think outside the box about how we can raise the standard of the national football team and if that means seeking a sponsor from the rich land-owning classes here, then so be it. I'm not proud.

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Sunday, June 7, 2009

Sokumpheak on fire

Kouch Sokumpheak, deadly as usual, this time with a hat-trick
Preah Khan Reach kept their noses in front at the top of the Cambodia Premier League with a 2-1 victory over previously unbeaten Spark FC. An early goal from Saidu was cancelled out by Spark's top scorer Justine Prince a minute later. In a tight affair, sub Tum Saray netted the winner for PKR, who did just enough to maintain top spot. In the opening game on Sunday, Khemara Keila's national team striker Kouch Sokumpheak took the honours with a second half hat-trick, his first a penalty to cancel out Post Tel's first half lead through Chamroeun. KK teammate Olatunde tapped in a fourth as Khemara ran out easy 4-1 winners in the end. In the crowd today, new national coach Scott O'Donell, who has decided on his backroom team and will announce them shortly, is currently running the rule over each CPL team to identify the cream of Cambodia's under-23 talent, ready for the SEA Games in Laos in December. Also in the crowd was my favourite peanut seller, who today carried one of the widest trays on her head that I've seen at the footy stadium. I must find out her name.
The Khemara team who ran out easy 4-1 winners over Post Tel
Tum Saray's goal earned Preah Khan Reach another win, 2-1 over Spark
The Preah Khan Reach team who stay at the top of the CPL with 15 points
This is my favourite peanut seller at Olympic, who turned to selling fruit in the second match
The peanuts have gone, here comes the fruit: have stool, will carry

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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

From the new Coach

Scott O'Donell, the new Cambodia football coach

So you hear it from the horse's mouth, so to speak, here is my full interview with Scott O'Donell, the new Cambodia national football team coach. The interview took place on Sunday. His comments form the majority of this interview.

The Cambodian Football Federation (FFC) have turned to a man they already know well to elevate the national football team to new heights. Australian Scott O’Donell took over as the full time national coach yesterday, some seventeen months after relinquishing the same role. The homecoming of O’Donell is timely, he quit his job as Director of Coach Education for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in February and rejoined his family who were already living in Phnom Penh. “From Monday I am full time as the Cambodia national team coach and I have a 1 year contract. I’ve kept in touch with the Cambodian Football Federation whilst I was at the AFC and I have a lot of time and respect for the FFC President Sao Sokha. He called me up a couple of weeks ago and over dinner he asked me to become the full time coach again. It was good timing for me as I’d just moved back to live in Cambodia and I am ready for the challenge. There’s no formal targets set but we want to see an improvement on past performances. To get out of the group stages in the SEA Games will be real progress though it’s not going to be easy when we compare ourselves against neighbouring countries. Everyone must be realistic with their expectations. I want the players to have a belief in themselves and have a commitment to the national team,” said the former no-nonsense defender who played his football in Australia, Malaysia and Singapore before taking his first coaching role in charge of Singapore club side Geylang United in 2003.

O’Donell’s first spell in charge of the Cambodian national team began in July 2005. “I had 2 and a half years as the Cambodia coach, which was frustrating at times especially when two weeks before, and after six months of training, my team were pulled from the SEA Games in November 2005 and replaced by the Prince Ranarridh’s club side. But I really enjoyed my time here, I had a good bunch of lads, they were willing to learn and I enjoyed working with the players. It was very rewarding watching the players improve and to see that the young players I introduced go onto become regular fixtures in the national team. After the SEA Games incident I was re-designated as Technical Director but once things were sorted out I was reinstated as national coach until I left in December 2007,” he recalled. Since then he has worked as the Director of Coach Education for the AFC. “It was a great opportunity to travel and to make good contacts at conferences and meetings as well as being involved with coach development throughout the region, but I got tired of coming back every two or three weeks to see my family and I resigned,” he confided. The AFC’s loss will hopefully turn out to be Cambodia’s gain.

“My focus this year will be the SEA Games in Laos in December. It is up to me when I get the team together. I need to identify the players who are eligible for the SEA Games, which is at under-23 level, and then formulate a plan to work towards the games. Hopefully I can get a squad of 25 players, or more, depending on budgets. I will get them together a couple of times a week while the league season is still going and maybe play a couple of friendly matches before the season ends. Then we will get together full time. I will speak to some contacts I have about the possibility of arranging friendlies, but again budgets will be a factor. I will have a number 2, a number 3, a goalkeeping coach and I already have them in mind.” he said. O’Donell has kept in touch with developments in Cambodia since his initial spell in charge. “Since I was here before, I would come back every 2nd or 3rd week to see my family and if I had time I would watch some of the matches. Now I’m back I’ve already seen a few players I’m interested in but I need to know who is eligible for the under-23 team. One of the positive things I have seen is the league is a lot stronger now. I don’t see 20-0 victories anymore, it’s all very evenly contested and that’s only good for the league. This season has already thrown up a lot of upsets and that’s good to see too. I would love to see Cambodian coaches improving their skills and we can do that through the AFC, which I know the Federation here is keen to do. That will be a positive step forwards. More qualified coaches will improve the quality of Cambodia’s players.”

In looking to the future, O’Donell is optimistic. “I am a firm believer if players are good enough, they are old enough to play for the national team. I don’t care who they are, names or reputations, I will pick the best available players for my team. I see the way forward will be to make the under-23 team the nucleus of the Cambodian national team. I have full control over player selections and coach selections, I will have full say and that’s how it should be. If there are Khmer players overseas in France, Australia or America who are eligible and they are good enough, I will be happy to select them if they are better than the players we have here.” On his management style, O’Donell was quite clear. “I believe in discipline, both on and off the pitch, taking training seriously and a strong work ethic. Its no secret that a weakness with Cambodian players is that they haven’t been able to match the physical strength of Indonesia and Thailand in the past. It will be up to me to get them physically prepared to play as well as focusing on the tactical side as well. We have some great technical players here but they haven’t been coached enough – most of the countries we face have had qualified coaching from a young age, whilst our players have effectively taught themselves. The Cambodian public can expect my eleven players will go out and give 100% for their country and for each other.”

O’Donell’s presence on cable television as a football analyst will continue. “I have a contract with ESPN Star Sports and I’m also a FIFA instructor and will be conducting courses for FIFA in Kuala Lumpur in June and the Cayman Islands in July, which I will make sure doesn’t interfere with my national team duties.” As for his connections to Cambodia, they are already very strong. “I first came to Cambodia in 1998 to adopt our first child. I’ve lived here since I was appointed coach in the middle of 2005, and though I was away for 14 months in Malaysia, my family, wife Margaret and adopted daughters Emma and Ellie, have always remained here. It’s our home.”

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Spare a thought

Spare a thought for former Cambodian national football team coack Prak Sovannara as the spotlight now shifts to the country's new Australian coach Scott O'Donell, who began work yesterday. Softly-spoken Sovannara took over the national team in July of last year and is Cambodia's best home-grown coach by a country mile. Though his record in a dozen international matches under his control of three wins, 1 draw and eight defeats, goals for 14, goals against 37, doesn't look too rosy, he was building for the future with a very young team and included in that record was successful qualification for the finals of the Suzuki Cup. For the first quarter of this year he was working without a contract and it was pretty clear to me that the Federation were actively looking for a coach with overseas experience, which they have now got. As for Sovannara, he has been coaching the Premier League leaders Preah Khan Reach this season and has also received offers to go and coach in Europe. Such a move would be invaluable experience for him and one that would augur well for a return to coach the national team sometime in the future. He is afterall only 37 years old, he's been coaching full-time for the last decade and experience outside Cambodia would be great for his coaching CV. Added to which he is a real gentleman, went out of his way to co-operate with the press at all times and remains committed to helping Cambodian football in any way he can.

Prak Sovannara took over as Cambodia's national coach in July 2008 after a string of poor performances under the former South Korean coach and the forecast looked bleak when a three week stint of practice matches in South Korea, produced losses in six of eight games to university and domestic teams. Not easily deterred, Sovannara, who played for the national team in the 1990s and who has coached domestic side Phnom Penh Empire and the national youth team, also cast aside crushing friendly defeats, 7-1 to Myanmar and 7-0 to Indonesia, to put some fire into the belly of his players for the AFF Suzuki Cup qualifying tournament held in Phnom Penh last October. With wins over Laos (3-2) and Brunei (2-1), a draw with Timor Leste (2-2) and a loss to Philippines (2-3), his youthful Cambodian team, with an average age of 22, qualified as runners-up for the finals. This was a real success for the fans and players alike to rejoice in, exemplified by the whole squad running to throw their shirts into the 15,000 crowd at the end of the qualifiers. In the December finals Cambodia came unstuck against Singapore (0-5) and Indonesia (0-4) and narrowly lost to Laos 3-2 but could hold their heads high in competing at the senior level of Asean football. In April, he took his young squad to Bangladesh for the AFC Challenge Cup group stage and narrowly failed to qualify, beating Macau 2-1 but losing to Bangladesh and Myanmar, by a 1-nil scoreline on both occasions. He was looking to build the squad ahead of the SEA Games in Laos in December until he was told that his place was to be taken by Scott O'Donell at the weekend.

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PPP on O'Donell's return to Cambodia

My interview with the new Cambodia football coach Scott O'Donell in today's Phnom Penh Post
Note: The interview in the Phnom Penh Post can be read here.

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Monday, June 1, 2009

Press jottings

My review of the weekend's CPL games in today's Phnom Penh Post
Note: To read the article in the Phnom Penh Post, click here.

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Sunday, May 31, 2009

9 goals in 2 games

Livewire striker Sunday Patrick Okonkwo starred for Naga Corp
Okay I know its been a football dominated last few posts on my blog, but I promise this is the final one for this weekend. The two games at the Olympic Stadium this afternoon provided a few thrills and spills as Preah Khan Reach returned to the top spot in the Cambodia Premier League table, making heavy weather of beating Post Tel Club 2-0, whilst Naga Corp rattled in 5 goals against Phuchung Neak, who scored twice in reply. Sam El Nasa, with an early tap-in, and a Sotheavy own goal undid Post Tel, who failed to register with a last-minute penalty when Ouk Mic saved well at the foot of the post. But it was PKR striker Olisa Emeka Onyemerea who missed half a dozen guilt-edged chances to double and triple PKR's winning margin in an otherwise scrappy game. That said, PKR now sit at the head of the league table with 12 points, which will please their fans and their coach Prak Sovannara, who has just seen Scott O'Donell appointed as the national team coach in his place. He was philosophical about the change saying that Scott's experience will serve the team well and that he will now concentrate on PKR full-time, whilst also considering offers he's received to coach abroad in Holland and Germany.
In the opening game of the day, Naga rattled in the goals but still didn't look convincing, allowing their oppponents to score twice when the game should've been dead and buried. The star of the show was Sunday Patrick Okonkwo, who scored twice and looked constantly dangerous. Naga's other scorers were Friday Nwakuna (days of the week seem popular with Naga's overseas imports), Meas Channa and substitute defender Neang Chenla. Pointless Phuchung Neak's goals came from Ouk Thoun and Pov Samnang and they lost Oghenekevwe Auwara with a straight red card for a needless elbow on Channa in the dying moments of the game. Today's fare was certainly an improvement on yesterday's but one thing didn't change, the rolling around on the floor screaming in agony whenever a challenge came in was just as prevalent and something that the CPL should look to stamp out as quickly as they can. It's just a way to try and curry favourable refereeing decisions, whilst the poor lads who operate the stretcher are leaving the ground in an exhausted heap, having worked harder than anyone on the pitch!
Naga Corp ran out easy 5-2 winner against the league's whipping boys Phuchung Neak
Bottom of the table Phuchung Neak and still without a point
PKR's Olisa Emeka Onyemerea missed a hatful of chances in the game against Post Tel
Preah Khan Reach went back to the top of the table with their 2-0 success

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O'Donell's reign begins tomorrow

The new man in the hot seat, Scott O'Donell
Scott O'Donell is the new national team coach of the Cambodian senior and under-23 football teams. It's official, especially as I interviewed the man himself at half-time during one of this afternoon's games at the Olympic Stadium, and that interview will appear in Tuesday's Phnom Penh Post. So you'll have to wait for Tuesday to get the full low-down. What I can tell you is that Scott is very keen to get started, to assess the talent on offer and to run the rule over anyone that qualifies for the SEA Games in Laos in December - the football squad Cambodia will enter into the SEA Games will be an under-23 team. He'll be a regular face in the crowd for all future Cambodia Premier league fixtures, as he has been for the past two weeks. His contract is for 1 year and this will be the second time that the Aussie has managed the Cambodian national team, having had a two and half year spell previously, beginning in July 2005. He officially begins his new full-time job tomorrow. And it goes without saying, we wish him all the success in the world, though we must remain realistic that Cambodia still has a long way to go before it can compare favourably with its Asean neighbours.

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