Sunday, January 31, 2010

The footy madness returns

Hero or villain? Ex-Phouchung Neak striker Heng Sokly came off the bench to sink his former club, in the colours of his new side, Phnom Penh Crown.
Before I launch into the two Hun Sen Cup matches played on Saturday at Olympic, a word on Kuoch Sokumpheak. The Cambodian international striker is back in Phnom Penh after an unsuccessful trial with Indonesian Super League club Persipura last week. Their transfer window opens next week so they were looking at Sokumpheak and a Korean defender but didn't take up the option to sign either after having a look. There's a suggestion they felt he was too small. Disappointing for Sokumpheak, obviously, as it would've been a chance to pitch himself in the hottest league in Asia right now, not to mention the cash windfall he would've got, but at least we'll have the pleasure of his company again in this season's Cambodian Premier League.
The last 16 of the Hun Sen Cup kicked off Saturday without any foreigners, giving the all-Khmer teams the chance to shine. Phnom Penh Crown were made to work for their 1-0 success against Phouchung Neak and it was the Navy old boy, Heng Sokly, who has just joined Crown, who came off the bench to net the winning goal, 5 minutes from time. Crown dominated but couldn't put their opponents to the sword, though Keo Sokngorn, with his head bandaged after a clash of heads left him with a cut eyebrow, was the pick of both sides and it was his pin-point cross that left Sokly with the tap-in as extra time loomed. P'Neak had the ball in the net in injury time but the linesman's flag ruled it offside, sparking a free-for-all that had the Military Police itching to get involved. By the time they'd reached the touchline, the handbags had been put away.
In the 2nd game, it was one-way traffic for the whole match, and Wat Phnom managed to net as many as I predicted, a round 10 against Mekong University's 1. A mismatch from the start, Wat Phnom were known as Spark in the CPL last term, and proved way too strong for the students. Two players got hat-tricks. Srei Vandeth came off the bench in the 2nd half and within 11 minutes he'd netted his 3 goals. Ry Phearoeun was the other ball-claimer after he scored two late goals to add to his 1st half rocket. Other goals came courtesy of Tes Vatanak, Put Savuth, Leang Sok Samnang and Phlong Chanthou for Wat Phnom, with Em Thun scoring for the hapless Mekong side. Two more games will be played Sunday afternoon.
Footnote: For the first time I saw football jerseys being sold before the game. It had to be PPCrown of course and their merchandize was selling for $10 apiece. They also employed a band to liven up proceedings too. You've got to admire their enthusiasm. Read my Phnom Penh Post match reports here.
Crown's national wizard Keo Sokngorn was the pick of the players in Saturday's 1-0 win for Crown. Sokngorn picked up a cut eyebrow from a clash of heads.
The all-Khmer Phnom Penh Crown side, 1-0 winners over the Navy team
Plucky Phouchung Neak put in a determined performance, only to lose to a goal 5 mins from time
The hat-trick heroes for Wat Phnom: Srei Vandeth (11) and Ry Phearoeun (9)
Wat Phnom getting themselves in a tangle before the game begins, or are they just camera shy?
Mekong Kampuchea University were put to the sword by Wat Phnom
Wat Phnom finally got themselves organized and hammered the Mekong students 10-1

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

The stars of tomorrow

Developing schoolboy and youth football in Cambodia is an absolute must if the stars of tomorrow are to be identified and nurtured properly from a young age. There are two organizations who are doing wonderful work in this area but Cambodia needs many more. It needs every major town in the country to have its own organized league competition with football teams at various age levels playing regularly, on well-maintained pitches. Only then will it find the Keo Sokngorn's (pictured right) and Nov Soseila's of the future. The SALT Academy in Battambang and the Indochina Starfish Foundation have programs that provide football as the centrepiece of their aims but also provide leadership and life skills training as part of the work they do, both for boys and girls. This type of grassroots work is absolutely vital and both organizations are to be commended for their wonderful efforts. The next stage is to widen the net of football at grassroots level to incorporate every corner of the country, so that football becomes a part of the culture, there are opportunities for everyone to take part and the best players are identified and fed into a system of trials and games for the national team at all age levels. This doesn't happen overnight and money, qualified coaches, suitabel playing surfaces and so on are needed to make this a reality of the future, but that must be the goal of the Football Federation of Cambodia, as the flagship for football in this country.
Find out more about the two organizations above at SALT and ISF.
Keo Sokngorn is still just 17 years old but has been a bright star in the Cambodian Premier League for the last couple of seasons. His success with Phnom Penh Crown has ensured he's a regular in the Cambodia national squad, was captain of the Under-17 team and is one of the country's best prospects. He was born in Kratie and played for his local team, Moha Garuda before switching to Crown. Interviewed for in September 2007, he said he'd love to play in Vietnam in the future, especially for HAGL. Well today he has the opportunity to play against HAGL for the Cambodian national team and to showcase his talents once more.
Last night was the official dinner of the BIDC Cup tournament with all teams and officials invited to TaTa restaurant in Preak Leap for food and drinks and song. Some of the Vietnamese attendees wasted no time in getting on stage and displaying their vocal dexterity, followed closely by the Brazilian contingent of HAGL, who added some South American flavour to the evening. It's back to the important stuff this afternoon as Vissai Ninh Binh meet the Laos U23s for the third place play-off at 3.30pm, followed by the Cambodia U23s v HAGL final at 6pm. A $20,000 cash prize, to be shared amongst the members of the winning squad, is up for grabs, with the runners-up getting $10,000. More importantly for the Cambodian team, its another chance to pit themselves against one of Vietnam's best club sides and to get another game under their belt in their preparation for the SEA Games in a couple of weeks time. Don't miss it.
Adding a touch of Brazilian flavour to last night's BIDC Cup official dinner

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Sunday, May 3, 2009

Youth has its chance

17 year old prodigy Keo Sokngorn
My discussion with the Cambodia national football coach Prak Sovannara at the Olympic Stadium yesterday revealed a remarkable statistic. I'd previously thought the average age of the Cambodian national team was somewhere in the twenties but as Sovannara went through the list of his 18-man squad that had just returned from Bangladesh, and reeled off each player's age, we quickly realized that his squad was even younger than I first thought. 22 is the average age with three teenagers in the team, the youngest being the 17 year old star of the future, Keo Sokngorn. Sovannara was effusive in his praise for the teenager, who is on the books of the current league champions Phnom Penh Crown. "Keo Sokngorn is a wonderful prospect at just 17 years old. He always gives 100% and has great talent. When I play him I give him the freedom of the park. I have to be careful not to expose him too quickly but he is a player with a very big future ahead of him." True to his word, the coach sat Sokngorn on the bench for the games against Bangladesh and Myanmar, introducing him in the second-half of each game, though he did start him against Macau and the youngster rewarded him with a goal. The two other teenagers are the 19 year old pairing of goalkeeper Samreth Seiha and talented sriker Khim Borey. Both have come through the youth ranks and have been regulars in the national squad for a while, belieing their tender years. Seiha is an exciting goalkeeper to watch, agile, brave and the best in the country, though a dispute with his team National Defense Ministry is casting a shadow over the start of his domestic league season. Borey has already proved his ability as a goalscorer, winning the golden boot award last season as the country's top marksman, but he too is in limbo after his club made serious allegations against the two players in a recent Hun Sen Cup game.

With the majority of the squad in their early twenties, the exceptions are national captain Kim Chanbunrith, who is the elder statesman of the team at 30, whilst number two goalkeeper Ouk Mic is close behind at 29. Pok Chanthan, recalled for duty after missing the international games in 2008, is 27 and Sam El Nasa is 25, though seems to have been playing for the national team forever, having made his debut as a teenager. Sovannara is upbeat about his squad. "With such a young squad that gives me confidence for the future. Players like Seiha, Borey and Sokngorn, all teenagers, have many years to improve and grow in the national team. I would like a series of friendly matches both home and away to strengthen our team as a unit, work on areas that need improving and to continue the progress I saw in Bangladesh. This team can only get better." Amen to that I say. With such a youthful national squad to work with, Prak Sovannara is carrying the nation's hopes forward and its his job to mould that youthful exuberance with the experience of seasoned players, into a force to be reckoned with in Southeast Asian football. It won't happen overnight but the signs are good that Cambodian football is set to end its spell in the doldrums.

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