U23s coach shares his view of the Southeast Asian Games and future prospects as the team returns from an unfortunate outing
CAMBODIA’S U23s squad took the two-day bus journey back home over the weekend, far from ideal for a professional sports team representing their country in an important regional competition but perhaps symptomatic of the current process that leaves the Kingdom a long way from being in a position to challenge stronger nations such as Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore.
Prior to the tournament, the football squad assembled by national coach Scott O’Donell, back in charge of the Cambodian team for a second spell, had a handful of training sessions on home soil, six weeks in training camp in Vietnam and some important competition preparation in the form of the four-team BIDC Cup, which they won. However, said the Australian-born coach, that wasn’t nearly enough preparation in order to face the might of Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam, against whom they lost their group matches in Vientiane.
“I don’t want to make any excuses because I accepted the job knowing that we’d have only six weeks preparation [for the SEA Games],” O’Donell said. “I knew that before I took it on. We had the best preparation possible, given the time constraints ... You’ve got to do the best with what you’ve got. But I don’t think we can keep doing what we’ve been doing, because it doesn’t work.
“There’s got to be some fundamental changes in how we approach tournaments,” he asserted. “This is my personal opinion, but rather than getting the players together for a month or so before a tournament, we’ve got to get them together more regularly than that.
“I was happy with the other games, not so against Vietnam. It’s tough playing four games in six days, tough for every team, and we did it in the BIDC Cup. But the standard here at the SEA Games is much higher. While the BIDC Cup was a good thing for us in terms of preparation, it’s not the same as the SEA Games. And we’ve got to learn from that.”
Cambodia opened their SEA Games competition with a 4-0 defeat against Thailand. They then recorded their only success in Vientiane, a 4-1 victory over East Timor, before finding the going tough against Malaysia, losing 4-0, and suffering a 6-1 drubbing by Vietnam. That predictably ended their progress at the group stage, having known that their opponents were some of the best in the region.
So what did O’Donell’s players learn from their experience in the SEA Games?
“I think they realise that when you are playing international football, you have a lot less time and space to play, which means your first touch has to be better, you have to be organised and you have to be disciplined with and without the ball,” remarked the coach. “That’s an important thing for our players to learn and understand because if you don’t, as we saw against Vietnam, you get punished for it. It’s a lesson they can only learn by playing more and more international games.”
Speaking bluntly of the future, O’Donell explained: “We need to be prepared to lose. We’ve got to face facts that we’re not going to win games in the short term against strong teams like Vietnam. We can work hard and try hard, but we’re only going to be better by playing against strong opposition regularly, not a month before the tournament. It’s got to be a regular occurrence. The whole process has got to change, starting from youth development.”
However, the coach was enthusiastic about the emerging talents of Prak Monyoudom. “He’s just 17 years old,” stated O’Donell. “He did very well against a good team, and for him to be one of our best players, is a good thing for Cambodia. He’s a young boy, who has a good attitude, works hard, and is someone we can look forward to in the future.”
It’s important to note that two-thirds of the current U23 squad of twenty players will be eligible for the next SEA Games in Indonesia in 2011. Their Laos experience should hold them in good stead, and if O’Donell’s recommendations to the Cambodian Football Federation on ways to improve for future competitions are adopted, then we may just see greater successes on the field for the Kingdom in the future.