Football fans, players and officials were left reeling yesterday after news of the sudden death of Cambodia’s second choice goalkeeper Sar Sophea following a training session on Saturday morning in Phnom Penh.
The Kampong Thom native, who turned just 22 on October 14, was rushed to hospital after a suspected heart attack at a gym near the Chinese Embassy, according to Sam Vandeth, the head coach of his club Svay Rieng.
“Other players and I tried our best to help him but we couldn’t save him. The doctor’s team found that Sar Sophea’s death was caused by heart failure stemming from a preexisting condition, which he’d held for a long time already,” Sam Vandeth explained to the Post.
Roughly 40 minutes after their Saturday morning training, Sor Sophea and his team-mates had swum laps of a pool before taking a bath. The keeper had then sat down by the side of the pool, but drew attention when he suddenly collapsed backwards.
His coach and other players had attempted to resuscitate Sophea onsite, with a call made to an ambulance once the keeper appeared to be breathing again. However, an emergency response took too long, forcing the coach to use his own car to drive Sophea to a private clinic nearby, which refused them entry.
They then battled through traffic to get to Preah Kossamak Hospital in Toul Kork district, where Sophea was pronounced dead on arrival.
“I treated him like my son or my younger brother because he was a good player in the team,” said an emotional Vandeth. “His death is not only a tragic loss [for Svay Rieng] but also a big loss of talent for the Cambodian national team as he was second choice keeper behind Sou Yaty.
“It is so difficult to find a talented boy from the province like him, but the biggest sadness is that he died so young.”
Sor Sophea joined Preah Khan Reach (the former name of Svay Rieng) in 2008, where he steadily built a reputation as one of their top players along with Prak Mony Udom and Lay Reaksmey.
He played in some friendlies for the U23 national team and, although yet to make his debut for the senior squad, had trained under Lee Tae Hoon for many months.
Sophea’s funeral will be held today at the Neak Vorn pagoda in Toul Kork district, costs to be borne by Svay Rieng. On being informed of the tragedy, Football Federation of Cambodia president Sao Sokha instructed secretary general Kul Sophana to grant 2 million riel (US$494) towards funeral costs, while Education, Youth and Sports Minister Hang Chuon Naron and Ouk Sethycheat, the head of the Ministry’s sports department, donated a total of 1 million riel. Other costs are to be borne by Svay Rieng club.
Sor Sophea, who is survived by his wife and three-month old child, was the sole bread-winner of the family.