Once every year, provincial minnows get a chance to rub shoulders with some of the top tier clubs in the Kingdom’s only open football competition, the Samdech Hun Sen Cup.
Sreng Meng Srun/Phnom Penh Post
Kirivong Sok Sen Chey’s Pov Phearith (right) and National Defence Ministry’s Chhin Chhoeun vie for the ball during their 2011 Hun Sen Cup match at Olympic Stadium. Pov Phearith has since joined the Army team and will feature in their Hun Sen Cup opener today.
It’s a moment every outfit from the outback loves to cherish. For the bigwigs, meanwhile, it’s a near-perfect tune-up for the league season, which begins in March.
This prestigious event bears the name of Prime Minister Hun Sen and carries his blessing, with contributions towards an impressive total purse of around 152 million riels (US$37,400) from the Football Federation of Cambodia.
More significantly, this is the only event that brings the entire footballing community together at the start of a fresh season.
Eight qualifiers from the regional cycle, which concluded early last month at five centres, are now ready to join the top eight finishers from the 2011 Metfone C-League in the second phase of the tournament. It will feature 12 days of intense competition leading to the final on February 12, and kicks off with a card of four matches today.
Two ties are featured at Olympic Stadium, where Group A top seeds Naga Corp will be up against Pailin at 4pm after Chhlam Samuth and Battambang finish their 2pm fixture.
At the Old Stadium, Preah Vihear’s Asia Europe University (AEU) will take on 2010 Cup winners National Defence Ministry first, with Kirivong Sok Sen Chey lining up against Kampot next in the first set of group B matches.
For a team that barely managed to keep its head above water in last year’s league campaign to avoid relegation, it is a new season for Chhlam Samuth and a new start, if coach Kim Pheak Dei is to be believed. In 2009, when they went by Phouchung Neak, much the same combination went out in the semifinals and that remains their best run to date.
The Sea Sharks may have an edge, but they will certainly have a fight on their hands.
Battambang have a rich history behind them as the most active province and is among the most football-crazy regions in Cambodia.
Nothing would please Naga Corp coach Prak Sovannara more than a firm grip on the trophy this time, having been runners-up twice before and third last year.
The congenial coach considers the Cup run as an ideal lead-up to the more exacting League challenge, but his immediate thoughts are on going all out to grab this piece of precious silverware that has eluded the club.
The gutsy showing in the regional leg by AEU has heightened optimism in the team ranks of a good performance against 2010 Cup winners National Defence Ministry, a robust Army side expected to blood a lot of youngsters this season.
Meanwhile, the defeat by Rithy Sen last year still haunts Kirivong Sok Sen Chey, who are up against Kampot, a side that did reasonably well in the first phase, emerging as the best runners-up behind Koh Kong.
Playing at Olympic Stadium
- Chhlam Samuth v Battambang – 2pm
- Pailin v Naga Corp – 4pm
Playing at Old Stadium
- AEU v National Defence Ministry 2pm
- Kirivong Sok Sen Chey v Kampot 4pm