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Mini soccer teams down to 4

Indochina, Devenco, Total and Smart will play semifinals and finals Friday in the Phnom Penh Post Mini Soccer Championship at Kidzcool astroturf pitch

After 11 weeks of hard fought fixtures on the Astroturf pitch at Kidzcool Children and Family Fun Village on Chroy Changvar peninsular, the dust has finally cleared to reveal four teams left standing to compete in Friday’s finals round. Indochina, Total, Smart and Devenco have emerged from the rough and tumble of the preliminaries, which concluded Tuesday night, to contest what promises to be engrossing set of semifinals on the way to a title match slated for 8:15pm Friday, which will finish minutes before the kickoff of the opening game of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

First place finishers Indochina square up at 6:00pm against Smart, who clinched fourth spot with a 12-7 win over Kidzcool Tuesday, while second placed Devenco lock horns with third best Total at 6:45pm.

Indochina’s veteran captain Billy Barnaart conceded at the end of the group phase Tuesday that “Smart is a very tough team,” although he affirmed that his side will rise to the occasion. “It is all between the ears,” he stated. “The essence is speed and technique, and if we get those right on the day we can match any opposition.”

The Indochina dynamic has been dealt a serious blow by the absence of one particular unidentified player. “He is our best, and right now he is away on an official assignment,” revealed Barnaart. “He missed Tuesday’s action and will miss Friday’s as well, and that is a slight set back for us. This is what life and football is all about. We are determined to do our best.”

Meanwhile, Smart captain Kirill Mankovsky claims he has the utmost respect for his semifinal opponents, but are determined to go for gold. “Last time when we met Indochina, we were narrowly beaten 4-5,” noted Mankovski. “We hope to overturn that result this time.”

Khith Sipin, who leads the tangerine-coloured Devenco outfit, said the team has drawn strength from their Tuesday night victory over Total and are well poised for a repeat. “Our main worry is on the goal-keeping front, and we hope to get our seasoned goalkeeper back for Friday’s matches,” expressed Sipin. “We do realise that Total fielded a somewhat under-strength side in the preliminaries [against us]. I expect the contest to be close and competitive, but I feel Devenco has the means and strength to pull it off.”

Sipin claims the main challenge for any team playing in this higher bracket is the ability to gauge the rebounds from the signboards surrounding the pitch. “It puts a lot of premium on the flexibility of a player,” Sipin points out.

Total skipper Yim Vibol downplayed his side’s recent loss to Devenco, confirming his best players were not on display. “We hope to reinforce our team for the Big Day, and try and turn the tables on Devenco,” he asserted. “It doesn’t really matter which order we play. We need to beat two teams on the way to the title, and that is our ultimate goal.”

Losers of the semifinals will play a third place playoff at 7:30pm, while winners will progress to the grand final at 8:00pm. Spectators and players will be able to enjoy the opening World Cup match between hosts South Africa and Mexico on a huge screen erected on the pitch moments after the mini soccer final and awards ceremony.

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