Preap Sovath, flanked by a set of blue shirted young players in one of the goalmouths at Olympic Stadium, sings “Love Cambodia, Love Phnom Penh Crown” during a current TV commercial. The Cambodian pop superstar has been brought in to help promote the upcoming 2011 AFC President’s Cup group stage to be held from May 21-25.
Last month, Metfone C-League champions Crown became the first Cambodian side to win the rights to host games of the regional club tournament. Group A pits Crown against the league champions of Kyrgyzstan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka – FC Neftchi Kochkor-Ata, Abahani Limited and Don Bosco Sports Club.
All six matches will be played at Olympic Stadium, with the three ties featuring Crown screened live on Bayon 1 and TVK.
At a in a press conference on Saturday, vice-president of the Football Federation of Cambodia, Khieu Sameth, hailed the event as another step in development in Cambodian football.
The Federation have only provided technical assistance for the competition according to the official, while Crown have been given responsibility for organising almost all of the proceedings including finding sponsors.
“We hope other clubs will follow this way. We expect to see many regional tournaments hosted in the Kingdom,” said Khieu Sameth, adding that Prime Minister Hun Sen and vice-prime minister Sok An - who is also honorary president of FFC – have shown their supports.
Crown club president Rithy Samnang confirmed the main goal of accomodating the group stage this year was to elevate Cambodia’s status in the region and help make other nations aware of its ability as hosts. The president claimed the club has spent around US$100,000 to facilitate the contest.
Crown’s Croatian born head coach Bojan Hodak remained confident in his team of qualifying from the group stage and go on to claim the title and its US$50,000 cash prize. According to the coach, Neftchi is a dangerous team while Abahani feature seven members of the Bangladesh national squad in their line-up. However, Don Bosco seemed of little concern to the 40-year-old, who revealed he had studied matches of their rivals on DVD.
Crown boast 14 players in their ranks with experience in the competition, including captain Thul Sothearith, striker Kouch Sokumpheak and defender Tieng Tiny.
Despite making their third appearance at the AFC President’s Cup, Crown have yet to advance from the group stage while Khemara Keila made the semifinals in 2006.
Meanwhile, Yadanarbon FC of Myanmar got off to a flying start in their title defence on Friday as hosts of Group B. The Mandalay-based side ripped apart Bhutan’s Yeedzin FC winning 6-0 at the Youth Training centre in Yangon. FC Istikol of Tajikistan edged Palastine club Jabal Al Mukaber 2-0 in the day’s other game.
Last month, Chinese Taipei’s Taiwan Power Company and Turkmenistan outfit FC Balkan qualified from Group C played in Nepal. Translated by In Sopheng