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Fever pitch in Phnom Penh

City prepares for soccer spectacle, but many are unsure whom to support

THE 2010 FIFA World Cup – which kicks off in South Africa today and runs through July 11 – has whipped the city into a football frenzy, with locals and businesses alike ensuring the sounds of whistles and goal celebrations will reverberate throughout the capital over the next month.

Mao Smite, a 24-year-old moto-taxi driver, said he cannot wait to watch as many matches as possible, although he’s hedging his bets on who will win.

“I don’t know who to support,” he said. “I like Brazil, France, England and Germany. I like four teams.”

He works on the corner opposite the 24-hour Walkabout bar, meaning he will never be too far from the action. However, he does expect his business to suffer at the expense of his need to watch the big games.

“I have a TV, and sometimes I will go to the Walkabout,” he said. “I love football so much. Whenever there is a football competition I will always watch it. I’ll watch it everyday.”

Glen Press, owner of the Walkabout, said he’s expecting huge crowds at the bar for the four-week tournament. “Last World Cup, it was massive,” he said. “I didn’t know who half of [the crowd] were, to be honest. A lot of expats we hadn’t seen before came just to watch the games.”

Like many establishments in the capital, the Walkabout will be heavily football-themed to attract the fanatics. “We have five screens and we hope to show every game,” he said. “For every Tiger beer purchased we give a coupon, and five coupons gets you a commemorative World Cup shirt.”

Pho Huynh Son, 45, who owns a restaurant on Street 63, also plans to screen the matches in the hope of drawing a crowd.

“I like football, and my restaurant will be showing it,” he said Thursday. “I know tomorrow it will be on and the people will come to the restaurant to watch.”

Pho is another football fan wary of committing to one team. His home country, Vietnam, has never qualified. “I like Brazil, Germany and Spain,” he declared.

But some locals are refusing to get caught up in the hoopla. Ly Sopheap, a 64-year-old car parts vendor at Kandal Market, said he couldn’t care less about the Cup. “I don’t like football, I like boxing,” he said. “Just the [final] I will watch, the number-one and number-two teams.

“I heard the competition is coming, but I don’t know when,” he added.

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