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The long road to Vientiane

091202_24c
ASPECA’s Friedrich Huttner (left) scores the decisive penalty goal past Crossroad’s Tit Engsroun (front) during their match.

Andy Brouwer travelled on the Cambodian U23 team bus to Laos

REPORT

By Andy Brouwer

CHALK and cheese is how I would describe the enthusiasm with which the Laotian authorities have embraced the Southeast Asian Games compared with their equivalent in Cambodia. Of course, Laos are the hosts, and there’s a suggestion they’ve gone into debt to pay for the Games, hence their almost fever-pitch desire to get it right, down to the most minor detail. But the contrasts have been dramatic.

I left Phnom Penh Saturday with the Cambodian football team on a bus that should’ve been retired to the scrap yard years ago. The plastic seats were of the sweat-inducing variety, far from ideal for the nine-hour journey to the Dong Kralor border, north of Stung Treng.

The on-board toilet was broken, the video screen was out of action, and when the players got on, they entered what resembled a mosquito breeding ground. An hour into the trip, everyone was still killing mosquitoes despite a hastily purchased can of Raid. A shortcut via Chhlong gave the bus driver problems negotiating some serious potholes, and all in all, it was exactly the type of journey that professional athletes should not have to endure.

However, as we reached the border, everything changed for the better. Despite having to wait 90 minutes to get the immigration formalities resolved, the welcome from the Laos delegation was heartfelt, the television cameras were present, and the coach they provided for the second leg of the journey put its Cambodian cousin to shame.

OK, the hotel chosen for the overnight stay in Pakse wasn’t ideal, but it was clean and serviceable and the food they laid on for dinner and breakfast the next day was appreciated by all.

For the next 12 hours, we swept through southern and central Laos in a police car convey, backed up by an army wagon mounted by machine-gun wielding soldiers. They were taking security very seriously.

The Cambodian team were welcomed into the Games Village by a traditional Laotian band at 7pm Sunday evening. The accommodation, on the National University campus 17 kilometres outside of Vientiane, is acceptable without being plush, and they trained twice on Monday to get the two-day bus journey out of their system.

Aside from Nov Soseila, who is nursing a sprained ankle, everyone is in good shape, and the 20-man squad will train twice a day until they open their Group A competition against the gold medal favourites Thailand this Friday in Vientiane’s Chao Anuvong Stadium.

The last word goes to captain Sun Sovannarith, whose wife gave birth to a baby girl Monday, and who was sporting a grin as wide as the Mekong River. Mother and baby are reported to be doing well.

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