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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Footballers face regional foes

Footballers face regional foes

Cambodia's national football team rallied to earn a 2-2 draw against favored Laos

on November 14 at the five-team Asean Football Championship qualifying tournament

under way in Bacolod, the Philippines.

Despite dominating much of the first half, Cambodia was down 0-2 after a series of

defensive blunders minutes ahead of halftime. Laos, which defeated the Philippines

3-2 on November 13, is ranked 183 out of 205 FIFA-affiliated nations; Cambodia is

185.

"We gave away two silly goals - but the boys showed character and determination

to get back to 2-2," said Australian head coach Scott O'Donell, 39, on November

15. "We could have grabbed a winner in the last few minutes."

Cambodia's scoring came from striker Teab Vathanak and from 39-year-old team captain

and mid-fielder Hem Samchay.

"Right now we have more hope than ever that our players will get victories in

international matches because they have increasingly strong motivation," said

Sao Sokha, Cambodian Football Federation president.

"Yesterday, our football players came back from a two-goal deficit, so it shows

they have heart. Laos is a strong team."

Cambodia faced Brunei, the compitition's highest ranked team at 180, on November

16. The result was not available at press time.

"We came here to get four wins," O'Donell said. "Having said that,

I knew it would be tough and a lot of our opponents are unknown."

The squad will meet the Philippines on November 18 and conclude with unranked East

Timor on November 20. Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Myanmar and Malaysia

have already qualified for January's Asean Football Championship, formerly called

the Tiger Cup, to be held in Thailand and Singapore.

The tournament comes after a hectic week of matches in Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom

Penh against an onslaught of Vietnamese club teams. Cambodia had three wins, one

loss and two draws in the span, and avenged a 3-0 loss to An Giang in Vietnam with

a victory at Old Stadium on November 5.

According to O'Donell, who was reappointed as national coach on August 1, the coaching

staff has introduced a "high-intensity, pressing game," aimed at capturing

possession in the pitch's attacking third.

"Not many defenders can cope with pressure. So, even though our strikers are

our first line of defense, it's an attacking philosophy," he told the Post.

"We'll line up in a 3-5-2 - essentially an attacking formation. Our defenders

will be a flat three, so if the strikers and mid-fielders do their jobs it'll be

easier for them."

O'Donell, who played professionally in Australia and Singapore, credits his tutelage

under well-regarded football coaches such as Argentinian Raul Blanco and Mick Lyons,

former defensive stalwart and captain of the English Premier League's Everton FC.

"What I'm coaching is bits and pieces of what I've learned from coaches like

Blanco and Lyons," said O'Donell. "Blanco encouraged us to not get stuck

in the British 'long-ball' style of football. Lyons was one of the best defenders

in England for years. He played my position, so I learned from him how to play from

a tactical point of view."

The Cambodian side's new look extended to new uniforms, donated by JYB sports clothing

company, and high-quality football boots purchased personally by Sokha.

"As the players have said, it is the first time that they have shoes that costs

about $200 to play football," he said. "The government funds to each national

team player, through the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, 120,000 riel per

month and 15,000 riel for food every day. But the amount of money that the government

supports to the players does not equal to the demand of the players, so I added $5.50

for food per day and I also paid the players an extra $50 during the last three months

of training."

Former CFF head Khek Ravy, who is presently in Bacolod as head of the Cambodian delegation,

was replaced in a unanimous vote by Sokha in April. The move prompted world football

body FIFA to threaten a suspension unless Ravy was restored to the post.

The ban never materialized, but questions still remain about the leadership of the

CFF.

"It is true that FIFA still considers Khek Ravy the president of CFF,"

Sokha said. "But in reality, we are working together in order to reach our goal

of developing players to compete with neighboring countries."

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