Visas come through at last minute for five teens taking part in
56-nation football tournament designed to change lives through teamwork
and a rare shot at glory
The five-member squad recieved their Australian visas just hours before their scheduled flight out of Phnom Penh Monday.
HOMELESS WORLD CUP 2008
- Where Melbourne, Australia
- When December 1-7
- Who 56 teams, including 8 in a women's-only tournament
- Player Eligibility Must be at least 16 years of age, have been homeless at some point after the past year, or make their main income as a "streetpaper" vendor, or be asylum seekers
- Games Four-a-side, 14-minute matches
- Structure Teams are initially divided into eight groups of six, with groupings later refined based on ability. Different qualifying or elimination stages are played throughout the week so that everyone ends up playing for a cup, regardless of ability.
Homeless World Cup: A playoff among teams ranked 1-8
Dignitary Cup: For teams ranked 9-16
City Cup: For teams ranked 17-24
Host Cup: For teams ranked 25-32
Community Cup: For teams ranked 33-40
INSP Networking Trophy: For teams ranked 41-48
CAMBODIA'S five-member Homeless World Cup football team ended a nervous wait for Australian visas Monday, receiving permission to enter the host nation just hours before they flew out of Phnom Penh.
The five disadvantaged youths will represent Cambodia for the first time at the sixth edition of the weeklong tournament starting Saturday in Melbourne, where they will join a 56-nation spectacle that has grown swiftly since 2003, incorporating an eight-team women's competition for the first time this year.
"I feel very happy to be going to Australia to compete in these football matches," Ou Tola, from the Center for Children's Happiness (CCH), told the Post on Saturday.
"We will win the competition for the Center for Children's Happiness and for the whole country," he added.
Ou Tola is one of three 16-year-olds on the youthful Cambodia team, with a 17- and 18-year-old rounding out the squad comprised of teens from the CCH and Riverkids group homes, each of whom qualify for the four-a-side "street football" tournament by having been homeless at some time during the past year.
Cambodia's participation was organised and sponsored by local NGO Happy Football Cambodia Australia, in partnership with Happy Football Cambodia.
The competition, designed to bolster self-esteem and develop social skills as much as footballing prowess, is scheduled so that teams are given six shots at a title - there is a cup for each of the tournament's six divisions, which are determined based on ability as the World Cup progresses. Every competitor leaves with a medal.
Prak Sokha, an education and skills training officer for CCH, said he saw the event as a chance for orphanages to be proud of the youth they have helped raise.
"If they could win the competition, they will be an example for other orphanages," he said of the Cambodian team. "At the same time, they will show the world that even though they come from orphanages, they have the ability to bring some success to the nation."
Cambodia are sure to be one of the younger and physically smaller teams at the tournament, which requires competitors be at least 16, though Sam Yi doesn't see this as a problem despite only just making the age requirement.
"I think there is a 70 percent chance of winning the [main] title" claimed by Scotland at last year's competition in South Africa, he said.
Earlier this month, the five teammates took part in a football clinic run by two Italian coaches from Inter Campus, a social welfare program set up for children by Serie A giants Inter Milan.
Nhanh Vannak, 18, said he was sure the skills he learned at the clinic could come in handy at the Homeless World Cup.
"We will use the techniques and experiences we have learned from the foreign coaches. I am better at scoring goals, holding on to the ball and passing," he said.
The Homeless World Cup 2009 will be held in September in Milan, Italy, and the 2010 tournament in South America, with the host city yet to be confirmed.