Cambodia face a tough footballing test at the South-east Asian Games in Malaysia next month after being drawn in a six-team Group B that includes three of the four semifinalists from Singapore 2015, the last edition of the regional sporting showpiece.
At the official draw in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday, the Angkor Warriors found themselves in the company of 15-time winners Thailand and other regional powers Vietnam and the Philippines, with a re-emerging Indonesia also in the mix.
The line-up is completed by Timor Leste, who began participating in the SEA Games in 2005 after gaining independence from Indonesia three years earlier.
Malaysia and neighbours Singapore feature prominently in Group A along side Laos, Myanmar and Brunei.
While the rivalry between Malaysia and Singapore will surely again come to the fore, Laos and Myanmar will be eager to show what they are capable of when the football kicks off on August 14.
Cambodia’s national head coach Leonardo Vitorino conceded that the draw was somewhat tough on his side but welcomed the prospect of matching strides with some of the region’s best.
Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines have dominated the scene for a long time and Cambodian teams have often struggled against these strong sides.
Meanwhile, Cambodia were drawn to face top-seeded Indonesia in the men’s badminton team competition, with second-seeded Malaysia taking on Laos in the opener.
Cambodia will be hoping to bag a couple of medals from sepaktakraw after the draw was also announced on Saturday.
The Kingdom has been placed with the Philippines, Myanmar, Laos and Malaysia in the men’s doubles, while in the men’s team doubles they share Group A with Thailand and Malaysia.
In the men’s chinlone non-repetition primary, Cambodia will vie with Brunei, Thailand and Malaysia, while in the non-repetition secondary the other nations are the Philippines, Laos, Malaysia and Myanmar.
Malaysia’s biggest Games
The Kingdom’s basketballers face an uphill task in a Group B made up of Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam and Laos. Group A consists of the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia and Myanmar.
Cambodian table tennis players are grouped with Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand in the men’s team event, while Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and Laos contest Group A.
In men’s volleyball, Cambodia are clustered with Myanmar, Malaysia and Thailand, with the other group boasting the Philippines,Indonesia, Timor Leste and Vietnam.
The 29th SEA Games will be the biggest ever hosted by Malaysia, far exceeding the participation numbers recorded in 2001 when the biennial event was last held in Kuala Lumpur 16 years ago.
The Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) announced at the end of last week that a total of 4,888 athletes had registered to compete, as compared to some 3,500 athletes in 2001, making it the biggest ever for the country.
The Philippines has the distinction of organising the biggest SEA Games in history, with the numbers touching 5,339 in 2005 at Manila.
Malaysian participation numbers will be higher than the 4,370 that took part in the 2015 Games in Singapore marking the city state’s 50th year of independence.
The host country has also taken the lead in fielding the largest squad for the Games at 874, followed by Thailand’s 858. Indonesia has announced a squad of 629, Singapore 582, the Philippines 497, Myanmar 457, Vietnam 455, Laos 201, Cambodia 178, Brunei Darussalam 109 and Timor Leste 48.