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Futsal tourney thrills crowds


First-ever Hello Street Football Tournament showcases some hot prospects among young footballers, both male and female, in the streets of Battambang

BATTAMBANG'S first annual futsal, or street football, tournament, sponsored by Hello phone company, was held in Battambang over the weekend. The three-day event, climaxing Sunday, was a huge success, with visiting players from Phnom Penh and Banteay Meanchey, and special guests from the United States.

SALT Academy the Battambang-based event organiser, has established itself as the premier training facility for both girls and boys football in Cambodia. The organisation teaches players football and life skills, while also training many coaches and referees. In the past year, almost 1,000 players have joined the regular season, with games played over a five-month period from November to March.

Many of the children come from disadvantaged backgrounds and live in orphanages or other institutions. During the monsoon season, the league takes a break, and the leaders of SALT Academy, who worked for years on a way to keep the players involved in activities year-round, have found the perfect solution in the street football competition.

The venue chosen for the tournament was the street area in front of Nedyong High School, in the heart of Battambang town, just metres from the famous Ta Dambang Kranhoung (Grandfather Black Stick) statue. Officials praised the highly competitive play throughout the tournament.

The girls competition featured nine teams, with most containing one or two players from the United States. The tournament marked the beginning of the US girl players' two-week visit to Cambodia, to work alongside the SALT Academy to further develop women's football in the Kingdom.

Both girls semifinal games Sunday went down to the wire, with the matchup between Banteay Meanchey and TTA ending in a shootout victory for Bateay Meanchey, while Homeland v Aspeca was decided by a last minute winner for Homeland, leaving the more impressive-looking Aspeca in disbelief.

The girls championship game presented an even better showcase between Banteay Meanchey and Homeland. Although Homeland had two US guest players (Ellie Otteson and Michelle Camerer), it was their Cambodian girls who scored all the goals in a 3 - 2 victory. Huot Srey Mom, 15 years old and part of the U16 girls national team who played the first-ever competitive game in May this year, displayed great skill to net a brace, showing that girls football is as attractive to watch as the boys game.

Photo by: Eddie Carter
A Green FC player (left) takes a penalty during the shootout at the end of their Seniors semifinal match against EFC Key FC Sunday.

"The girls are much better than expected," admitted Otteson, after her team's triumphant final over Banteay Meanchey.

In the U16 boys competition, SVP and Aspeca demonstrated good speed and ability to win through their semifinals Sunday to face against each other later for the trophy. In the final, a questionable penalty early on awarded to SVP, and converted by Tang Rotankha, ruffled Aspeca's feathers enough for SVP to hold onto their slim lead to claim the title.

Players from thirteen U16 teams participating in the tournament seemed to relish the new experience of playing out on the road, and even rainy weather on Friday and Sunday didn't curb their enthusiasm.

In the U16 final, the Aspeca team emerged victorious, beating Nora FC 4-1, with Kiev Sokhan scoring two of the three goals, including a penalty kick.

The seniors semifinal match Sunday between EFC Key FC from Phnom Penh and the local Battambang side Green FC, would have made a worthy final, with both teams playing the fastest and most exciting futsal of all the 19 teams participating in qualification rounds. The teams were evenly matched, with Green playing at frenetic pace and EFC exhibiting tactical patience, and both demonstrated phenomenal passing.

This was a must-see game, and hundreds of spectators and supporters surrounded the field. EFC took the early lead thanks to Put Sotha, who not only scored many important goals for his side, but also stopped a large number of dangerous breakaways as the last defender. Green refused to panic, and good build-up play granted them an equaliser after the EFC keeper fumbled and allowed a shot to cross the line.

With the sides deadlocked at 1-1 at the end of regulation time, a penalty shootout eventually allowed EFC to advance after their keeper made a stunning block, and the following kick was converted.

In the championship game, EFC would prove to be too much for fellow finalists Youth Futbol Club from Battambang, picking them apart with precision and competence, with an aggressive two men up front, two men back flexed defence. EFC Team captain Long Nasy made fine plays from the back, setting up Ham Sokveng and Mol Makara to grab two each in the 5-2 victory.

At the final whistle, both teams shook hands and gave appreciation for each other's efforts, with the visiting team clearly having shown the advantage of having experience from a regular futsal competition in Phnom Penh. Fans also left the event satisfied, even though most of them had hoped the trophy and prize money sponsored by Hello phone company would stay in Battambang, rather than going with the guest team back to the capital.

Organised futsal is very new for Battambang, but the SALT Academy is aiming to promote its popularity with this annual tournament and other organised events, in conjunction with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports. The academy is also working with the Cambodian Football Federation to develop Women's Soccer in the Kingdom, and is hoping for many more opportunities for the girls to show off their skills in front of such large crowd numbers.

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