Saturday, October 17, 2009

Foreign aid in football

Kudos to Monument Books who were able to supply me with a copy of last week's Weekend edition of the Cambodia Daily. As I was away I missed the article that dominated the edition's front cover: Foreign Aid - what impact are overseas players having on Cambodian football? by reporter Eoin Redahan. I don't know the author of the article, even though I attend all of the CPL games, give or take one or two midweek games, and the Cambodia Daily's usual coverage of Cambodian football is virtually non-existent. So it was good to see they've at last got their finger out of their arse to put this story into print last week. The focus of the story is the question - is their [foreign footballers] presence constructive or destructive? - and comments from the country's national football coach Scott O'Donell were included, alongwith statements from Ken Gadaffi, president of the Nigerian Community Association. Ken reports on local sport for the Phnom Penh Post and as the majority of the 37 foreigners playing football in Cambodia are Nigerian, the author sought out his opinion. As you might expect, Ken views the foreign contribution, the majority of whom are African, as positive (he wants to raise the limit of foreign players at each club), whilst O'Donell's take is slightly different, bemoaning the lack of real quality professionals amongst the imports that can contribute to improving the standard of the local players. It's a viewpoint I agree with. Cambodian football is in a state of flux, the professionalism of the club sides is improving, but there is so much more to be done. Money is a big factor, as the wages currently paid here, will not attract the better standard of pro's that seek their fame and fortune in neighbouring leagues, such as Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore. The most important factor is the development of the local Cambodian players and this will be greatly influenced if more qualified coaches come to ply their trade here and raise the bar in terms of fitness and technique, alongside the recruitment of better quality foreign players - all pretty obvious but it ain't gonna happen overnight. Progress has been made but we're still on the starting blocks as far as Cambodia competing domestically and internationally with their Asian neighbours, let alone further afield.

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Friday, October 2, 2009

Oh the trauma...

An article today in the Phnom Penh Post by columnist Ken Gadaffi mentions the trauma of last weekend's frosty reception for the media at the CPL Super 4 finals. I say trauma with my tongue firmly in my cheek. Ken's piece details the following:
'Post reporter Andy Brouwer was forced to sit lower down amongst rowdy spectators, making it difficult to view the action and record accurate match notes. To make things worse, a clumsy guard kicked over his drink, mistaking him for a tourist. Other media representatives were also resigned to sit among the crowds, having been asked to vacate their seats in the press box for children of a CPL sponsor, even though numerous chairs were available.'
Storm in a teacup in my view, but yes, the football federation could've acted more professionally and need to consider the media for future events like this, and the international that was played the following day. I don't mind sitting with the smelly riff-raff (wink wink) once in a while but the security guard really did get up my nose. An apology from May Tola, the federation's deputy general secretary, is more than enough to put the matter to rest. "It's very unfortunate for the Federation, and so we take full responsibility of this neglect. Our actions did not show good hospitality to the press, who have been supportive all through the season, especially The Phnom Penh Post coverage of the league. The press box must be respected because the media are so important to us." The CPL and the professionalism of football in Cambodia is in its infancy, so these things will happen. As long as they learn and make provisions in the future, everyone will be happy. Link: PPP.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Football shorts

The existing National Football Centre (above) will be replaced by new facilities in Takeo province
I did warn you that there would be a few football-related posts over the last few days. And there will be a couple more before they eventually dry up and we can revert to normal, everyday stuff like cultural events, architecture pictures, temples of course and anything else that takes my fancy.
  • I was interested to see that the weekend's football got the thumbs up from the Prime Minister, Hun Sen, who reportedly said: "I watched the final between Naga Corp and Khemara Keila on TV. They played well. They showed their great performance. U-23 lost 6-nil to Singapore, but nothing to blame. Most players especially 4 from Naga and Khemara played already 120 minutes just one day before this friendly match." This man has his finger on the pulse. On Sunday evening he then banned an advert for condoms that appeared on tv when he was watching the kick-boxing. Forget matters of state, its wall-to-wall sport for our PM.
  • The Cambodian Premier league will fall into line next season, with a name change. In line with the V-League in Vietnam and the S-League in Singapore, the country's professional league will hence be known as the C-League under the new sponsorship agreement with MetFone.
  • Work has already started on the new National Football Centre on 15 hectares of land sandwiched between Phnom Tamao Zoo and Tonle Bati in Takeo province. The old football headquarters outside Phnom Penh is too small and often flooded, whilst the new HQ will boast four pitches - one for competition, three for training - dormitories and ample car parking space, at a cost of $1.2 million.

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Crown are sore losers

Phnom Penh Crown (red) have already left the pitch and Preah Khan (blue) are not allowed to play on by the referee
The Preah Khan management and players argue with the match officials that the 3rd goal should've stood
There was another game on Saturday and thankfully Preah Khan Reach won and took the 3rd place spot away from Phnom Penh Crown, who really are the spoilt brats of the CPL. After their loss to Naga in the semi-final, they were vocal with their displeasure in the Super 4 format even though they were well aware of it from the season's start. They'd finished top during the regular season by a clear 6 points from PKR, represented the league in the cup competitions abroad and wanted everyone to know it. However their antics during the game on Saturday were a disgrace. In my view they should've forfeited the game at half-time after they had walked off the pitch before the end of the 1st half. The referee, Khoun Vireak and the FFC officials bottled it in my opinion and let Crown get away with it. I hope the FFC review the circumstances and censure the Crown managment team after the event.
Crown began well and when Chan Rithy's inswinging corner was pushed into his own net by PKR keeper Ouk Mic, they took a deserved lead. PKR recovered and Sam El Nasa slotted home just after half an hour before sub Khuon Laboravy headed a spectacular effort to turn the game around. With 1 minute extra to be played, Crown reacted to the referee's decision to book Keo Sokngorn by walking off the pitch, encouraged by their manager Makara Be. In the ensuing confusion, PKR took the free kick but the referee blew for half-time before they rolled the ball into an empty net. Tempers flared in the grandstand and the inept security did little to quell the disturbances. It was a complete shambles.
After half an hour, the referee returned after his safety was guaranteed. Crown also agreed to play on, "for their fans" was the suggestion. What a joke. Crown had left the field before the end of the allotted time. I don't see how they were allowed to start the 2nd half. They had forfeited the right to continue, in my opinion and the referee, instead of thinking about himself, should've concentrated more on the laws of the game. Once underway, the second half was one-way traffic with Laboravy guilty of missing at least three guilt-edged chances. And he knew it. Nevertheless, PKR ran out 2-1 winners and collected the 3rd place prize, whilst Crown trooped off in a strop and sent two backroom staff to collect their 4th place cheque during the presentations. Sore losers doesn't begin to cover it. No wonder they are the team everyone loves to hate.
The referee and his assistants with their security detail as they come out for the 2nd half, at last
Preah Khan Reach before the game, which they won 2-1
Phnom Penh Crown - all round sore losers
Preah Khan's no 11, Khuon Laboravy knows he could've scored a hat-trick at least


More from the final

The plucky Khemara Keila line-up before the final against Naga, led by Kuoch Sokumpheak
Here's a few more photos from Saturday's CPL Super 4 final between Naga Corp and Khemara Keila. It wasn't a classic but it was hard-fought and the two evenly-matched teams put on a good show for their noisy fans. Most weekends the CPL games are deathly quiet affairs, so it was great to hear the fans get behind their teams with chanting, drums and a trumpet player who brought the house down every time he played. More of the same each week please, and especially for the international game against Singapore later today.
I did have a gripe about the final on Saturday. All seats in the VIP area were allocated to sponsors, or johnny-come-latelys as I call them, so I had to sit on the concrete steps with the Khemara fans to watch the game. I didn't even bother with the 'press steps' as the view was at the back of the stand and restricted. Effectively, the press were brushed aside and ignored in favour of the VIP guests, who turn up once a year and oust the people who turn up week in, week out. Why am I not surprised. In addition, the heavy-handed security, or heavy-footed in my case, kicked my drink under the step and stood directly in my line of sight for part of the game, despite my plea for him to move. A word to the FFC, if you want good press, look after your press corps better.
The Naga Corp bench just before the final kicks off
The golden boot winner with 21 goals, Uche Prince Justine from Spark FC, winner of a 2 million riel reward
This is the Naga version of the victory slide, which wasn't too successful
A look behind the scenes as Khemara receive their runners-up medals
The bright, shiny CPL Championship Cup ready and waiting
The top VIP was the Minister of Tourism HE Thong Khon (in white), who's also head of the Cambodian Olympic Committee
The Naga supporters in the main stand certainly made themselves heard


Sunday's Saturday joy

Naga's leading marksman and 2-goal hero, Sunday Okonkwo
With a name like Sunday Okonkwo, the Naga matchwinner has a name that headline writers love, except that his double-strike to win the CPL Super 4 decider was scored on a Saturday. But he won't mind as the 22 year old Nigerian striker who has impressed this season with 17 goals and a bagful of tricks and blistering pace, held aloft not only the trophy and his medal but the Nigerian flag as well. His confidence before the game was borne out. "I am sure of breaking their defence with my pace and technique," stated the dimuative striker. In fact it was a stooped header on 107 minutes and a simple tap into an empty net three minutes before the end of extra-time that clinched the title for his club. Sunday's Saturday double was enough to kick off the celebrations.
The Nigerian trio of Yemi Oyewole, Friday Nwakuna and Sunday Okonkwo celebrate their CPL Super 4 success

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Thavrak's moment of joy

The man, his medal and the cup - a proud moment for Om Thavrak
Om Thavrak is a player's player. Wholly committed to the cause, he's the Naga skipper and was understandably ecstatic at their CPL Super 4 championship success, even though he had to sit out the nail-biting extra-time excitement after limping off on 75 minutes. You could see his desire to stay on despite his injury, but he had to watch from the bench as Sunday Okonkwo tucked in the goals that gave Naga their 3rd title in six years. Bubbly off the pitch and a motivator on it, his leadership qualities have been vital to Naga's cause this season and though they finished the regular season in 4th place, their 2-nil win over Phnom Penh Crown in the semi-final and today's success against Khemara will make up for the disappointment of losing in the Hun Sen cup final at the beginning of the campaign. He's an uncompromising centre-half and plays with his heart on his sleeve in every game. Thavrak was recalled to the Cambodian national squad last season for the Suzuki Cup but won't feature in the forthcoming SEA Games squad as he's over the age limit. Not that he's complaining, as he joins his colleagues in celebrating their CPL championship success.
As usual, Om Thavrak has time for a smile as he leads Naga into today's final
Thavrak, no 6, is celebrating even before the final whistle
All smiles as the camera crews make a beeline for the Naga skipper
Amid the mayhem all around him, Thavrak is calmness personified for the tv cameras

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Super 4 Saturday

Naga collect the cup, the cheque and their medals as they pose with FFC President Sao Sokha
Whatever your opinion about the Super 4 finals, today was a great climax to the season with thrills, spills, a walk-off and an extra-time winner to clinch the Cambodian Premier league championship for Naga Corp. Their final success wasn't pretty but it was effective as they played the better football and deservedly pipped plucky Khemara 2-1 in the Super 4 decider. With so much at stake, the feast of football we were hoping for was replaced by nerves and a game of cat and mouse for the first 90 minutes. Naga were the more measured of the teams, playing some neat football without really threatening whilst Khemara relied on the long ball to their two strikers without any success. After the lights came on in extra-time, Sunday Okonkwo stooped to head Naga in front on 107 minutes though before the game could restart, they were down to 10-men when Tiet Chandara Sokha was sent off for lifting his shirt over his head and dismissed for a 2nd bookable offence. More pedantic crap from referee Tuy Vichheka as usual. Khemara couldn't press home their numerical advantage and when Okonkwo profited from a lack of communication at the back and rolled the ball into an empty net on 114 minutes, it was all over bar the shouting. In fact, no-one told Khemara centre-half Joel Omoraka and he blasted in a 30-yarder with a minute to go to set Naga nerves jangling, but they held out and went wild with joy at the final whistle, and rightly so. It was their 3rd title win in six years, as they collected the trophy from the Minister of Tourism Thong Khon and a cheque for 40 million riel. Though I'm neutral, I was chuffed for my favourite player, Naga skipper Om Thavrak, who had to watch from the bench after limping off with an injury on 75 minutes. He was ecstatic and will take days to calm down. The crowd played their part too, the thousands that came to watch upped the noise level for once and the friendly banter between the teams' fans was a pleasure to witness.
Naga mean business as they pose before the game begins
Naga manager Michael Thachnen wins the CPL title for the 2nd time in 3 years
Michael Thachnen lifts the CPL trophy aloft to everyone's delight
Minister Thong Khon presents a cheque for 40 million riel to the winners
The best left back in the CPL, national team player Sun Sovannarith

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Nail-biting week ahead

Khemara striker Kuoch Sokumpheak - vital to both club and country
We're just over a week away from the climax of the Cambodian football season and what a finish we have in store. We have the play-off final a week tomorrow - Saturday 26th - between the two underdogs Naga Corp and Khemara Keila, who beat their more fancied opponents last Saturday in the semi-finals. The winners of this game will win the Super 4 play-off and be ranked in top spot of the Cambodian Premier League. The 3rd place play-off will be between the big-guns Phnom Penh Crown and Preah Khan Reach, so Saturday will be great way to pull the curtain down on the CPL campaign. I expect a big crowd. Following hot on the heels of these two games will be Sunday's match at the Olympic Stadium between the Cambodian U-23 national team and their Singapore U-23 counterparts, kick-off at 3.30pm and a good test for Scott O'Donell's youngsters before they begin their SEA Games preparation in earnest. Singapore are one of the best prepared countries in Asia, their U-23 team play as Singapore Lions in their national league, so will be a big challenge for O'Donell's fledgling squad. The Cambodian squad have played a couple of practise matches so far but this will be a severe test for them. A new appointment as national team manager is Vy Piseth, who will form the link between the team and the federation though he's not part of the technical team that will coach the U-23s before and in Laos for the SEA Games. I hope to get out to see the U-23s in their run-up to Sunday's clash.
Back to that Super 4 CPL play-off final. Let's have a look at the strong and weak points of the finalists, starting with Naga. As we saw in the semi-final last week, if Sunday Okonkwo plays as well as he did against Crown, then he could be a key factor in the game, alongwith his tireless fellow Nigerian midfielders Friday Nwakuna and Yemi Oyewole. These three could be the difference, though Khemara have their own African threesome who could do exactly the same. Meas Channa on the right wing will cause anyone problems on his day, as will attacking full-back Sun Sovannarith whilst skipper Om Thavrak is a commanding figure at the back. A weak link for me is diminuative goalkeeper Chhorm Veasna. In the Khemara line-up, they have the country's best home-grown talent in Kuoch Sokumpheak, and this man can win games single-handedly, and frequently does. If his partnership up front with Nelson Olatunde or is it Nelson Oladiji (I've never been sure) clicks into gear then Khemara will win. Joel Omoraka has been dominant alongside Chan Dara since he joined Keila a few months ago and if they can snuff out the Naga threat, that will be significant. Khemara have a soft midfield quartet for me but Sokumpheak more than makes up for it and if anyone can win this game, he can. Incidentally, he will also be a key figure for the Cambodian U-23s the following day, so lets hope he can shrug off his recent injury worries. His presence in both matches is vital.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Press talk + tickets

CPL play-off reports in the PPPost
Above are my match reports in Monday's Phnom Penh Post following on from last Saturday's first round of Super 4 play-offs in the Cambodian Premier League. Click here to read them online.
Below is my 3-day Angkor pass which I obtained late on Sunday afternoon, so I could watch the sunset for free that day. I was offered a 3-day pass over a week period or for 3 consecutive days. I close the former, and I was happy that the ticket-sellers offered me both options.
The front of my 3-day US$40 Angkor pass, ignore the mugshot
The back of my 3 days in a week pass, with 3 days punched out on the right

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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Day of the underdog

Friday Nwakuna, the scorer of Naga's 2nd goal in their 2-nil success
Naga Corp manager Michael Thachnen was well pleased with his team's performance
It was a day for the underdog in the first stage of the Cambodian Premier League play-offs at the Olympic Stadium this afternoon. Phnom Penh Crown and Preah Khan Reach (PKR) have been swapping places at the top of the CPL throughout the regular season and must've fancied their chances of progressing through and meeting each other in the play-off final on the 26th. Instead the final will be between Naga Corp and Khemara Keila after the two unfancied teams caught their opponents cold and deserved their victories on the day. For Naga boss Michael Thachnen; "It was a great victory for us. We played to the plan we set out and on our day we can beat anyone," and so it proved as they swept aside the title favourites Phnom Penh with a goal in each half from two of their three Nigerian players, Sunday Okonkwo and Friday Nwakuna but it was a team effort that brought down the more-fancied Crown. Naga swamped midfield and took the game to their opponents, which unsettled Crown and proved to be their undoing. They never really recovered from Okonkwo's opener after ten minutes but will no doubt point to a disallowed Tieng Tiny effort that went in Naga's favour. They also lost Peng Panharong to a red card just before the interval. Nwakuna capped a fine display with a 2nd for Naga five minutes from the end that sparked off celebrations that were richly deserved. In the second game, Khemara's threadbare squad took the game to PKR and went in front two minutes before half-time when Sok Rithy turned a cross into his own net. It was nip and tuck in the 2nd half before Nelson Olatunde whacked in a killer blow seven minutes from time to give the final an unlikely but deserved line-up. Roll on the 26th of this month.
The Naga line-up that took the club to this year's CPL play-off final
Phnom Penh Crown simply didn't live up to the hype against Naga
The two teams enter the fray at Olympic Stadium today, Naga led by Om Thavrak
It's celebration time for Naga at the final whistle
Nelson Olatunde scored one and also claimed the first as well for Khemara
The successful Khemara Keila coach Ung Kan Yanith
Khemara Keila line up in the pouring rain before their play-off clash
Preah Khan Reach once again didn't live up to expectations
Celebrations for Khemara at the final whistle
The Khemara bench is a hive of activity and congratulations


Friday, September 11, 2009


Quite serious flooding in the north of the country is threatening my proposed trip to Kompong Cham and Kratie in the latter part of next week during the Pchum Ben holidays. Yesterday, parts of Kratie and Kompong Thom for example were under 2 metres of water after rains in the past week. National Highway 7 was closed in two locations outside the provincial capital of Kratie. My plan was for a moto ride along the west bank of the Mekong River, across to Chhlong and up to Kratie for an overnight stop. Then back down and along the east bank of the river but with thousands of hectares of land and over 2,000 homes having been flooded, it looks like I'll have to leave that trip for another day.
Tonight at 7pm is the Khmer Arts Ensemble performance of Ream Eyso & Moni Mekhala at the Chenla Theatre - the same show that I saw in rehearsal at their Takhmau home last Saturday. Fingers crossed I can get in to watch the show this time after my aborted attempt to watch the Royal Ballet on Monday evening.
I'm really looking forward to the architectural tour on Saturday morning with The Heritage Mission folks around the old French district of Phnom Penh. The tour party has been limited to about 30 I think and I know many other people have been unable to get a place. It's scheduled for 3 hours. The architectural heritage of Phnom Penh is unique and as much as possible needs to be done to raise awareness of what the city has today, so it's not lost tomorrow in case the Khmer preference for something new takes precedence amongst the city planners. This month has been designated Our City month and there are various events taking place to mark it, including this tour. One date to look out for is Wednesday 30th September at the CCF Cinema (7pm) when 150 years of Urban Architecture in the city will be discussed and dissected.
On Sunday I will be off up to Siem Reap for a few days but before I go, my concentration will be firmly fixed on the proceedings at the Olympic Stadium as the first leg of the Cambodian Premier League football play-offs take place. In the regular season, Phnom Penh Crown came out on top and will face Naga Corp, who finished fourth, at 2pm. Whilst I have a preference for Naga to win, I fear Phnom Penh Crown will be too strong for them. At 4pm, second-placed Preah Khan Reach take on Khemara Keila, who finished 3rd. If Kuoch Sokumpheak's ankle injury clears up and he plays for Khemara they will win, mark my words. The winners of the two games will meet to decide who will be crowned as the CPL league champions in two weeks time, 26th September.

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Monday, September 7, 2009

Press Talk

Saturday's football round-up made the back page of today's PPPost
Sunday's games on the inside back page of the PPP
A brief look at Uche Prince Justine, Spark's goal machine
Here are my match reports in today's Phnom Penh Post from the weekend's Cambodian Premier League games, as well as a brief on Spark's marksman Uche Prince Justine. They should be online sometime today.

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Miserable old bugger

Spot the miserable so & so in the shorts
Nick Sells captures a candid moment during Saturday's football as the television cameras and a miserable looking old bugger in shorts (that's me) await the arrival of the teams onto the pitch at Olympic Stadium. I claim that the sun was in my eyes hence my scrunched up face. Others claim I'm just a miserable old sod. You decide.

It seems that an administrator from a local expat forum has already made his choice in the matter. This was a post he put up a few days ago:
Some people have a fondness for Andy 'boring' Brouwer (if there was ever a Cambodian anorak-wearing trainspotting blog then Andy would run it and he'd probably have a packed lunch of processed cheese sandwiches lovingly made by his old mum) and say that he runs the best blog in town, but my own personal blogspot fave is...
I'm instructing my lawyers as I type. I have never worn an anorak in my life but I was a trainspotter in my youth.

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