Mighty Girls A-team player Deb Panida (front left) takes on a US B-side player during Friday’s tournament in Battambang. PHOTO SUPPLIED
Eight girls’ teams, including two from the US, competed in an inaugural international seven-a-side football tournament at SALT Academy’s new Battambang Airport field on Friday.
Despite being outmatched in size, two teams from SALT’s Mighty Girls select girls’ program fought to a first and second place finish. One of the visiting US sides grabbed third.
Teams from Kampong Chhnang, Phnom Penh and Pailin joined three teams from Battambang and the American pair in an impressive show of the breadth and depth of girls’ youth football in the Kingdom.
“In 2005, we saw no girls playing. To see this whole tournament just a few years later is really special,” US team leader Eddie Carter said.
Carter added that his touring squad included players returning to Cambodia following last year’s successful outreach visit as well as new recruits, many of whom have played since they were five years old.
The US players all hail from premier and select club teams in the Seattle area and from around Washington state. Many will return to their high schools with the task of impressing college team scouts.
The US team dubbed this second trip “passing the baton” – a reference to the notion that the Kingdom is now in a position to develop women’s football by itself, without the need for international involvement.
“To see the Cambodian girls compete at the same level – we’re just really impressed with how far the players, the coaches and SALT, and even the Football Federation of Cambodia have come in building the skill of female players in only a few years,” Carter said.
Many of the leading Cambodian players on the field on Friday held international playing experience after playing an U16 friendly away match against Singapore in November last year and participating in the U14 AFC Festival of Football in Ho Chi Minh City last month.
Although Heng Somalean, from Kampong Chhnang, played against 11 international teams last month, she was excited to play her first game against an international team on home soil.
“[I will] keep training hard so that I can join a competition like this again,” she said.
In Friday’s semifinals, the Mighty Girls A team beat the US squad B side 3-0, while Mighty Girls Bs beat the American As 1-0. Mighty Girls A then triumphed 2-0 over their compatriots in the final.
In partnership with the Indochina Starfish Foundation, younger players from Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville will remain in Battambang for trials of the U14 national team considered for entry in another seven-a-side international tournament in Thailand later this year.
They join about 25 girls already attending SALT’s Summer School – an intensive academic and training program running for two months during the school break.
The US team will also join training sessions in Battambang and Poipet for the remainder of this week to complete their visit.
“After seeing the skill displayed today, we really believe these players are ready to compete at international level,” Carter said on Saturday.
“I can’t wait to see other international teams play here and raise awareness about girls’ soccer in Cambodia.”