The 27-strong Cambodian Eagles Australian rules football squad are heading to Ho Chi Minh City for the 17th Asian Championships at the RMIT University Saigon South Campus on Saturday.
The Championships, involving 18 teams, will be preceded today by the inaugural All-Asian Cup in which three Asian teams comprising local players will compete.
The Eagles are travelling with a very strong team that includes a record nine Khmer players besides an enthusiastic band of supporters.
After being runners-up in the grand final at the 2015 Asian Champs, senior coach Nick Hattingh is confident about the Eagles’ prospects in the competition.
“We went to Bangkok a few weeks back with a depleted team of just 14 players. Despite that we convincingly defeated Thailand and they had 30 expats on their squad. Plus we were very competitive against Vietnam and they are in the top division,” he said.
“Our Khmer lads have really improved – not only are they quick but they tackle ferociously and some of them now have very good football skills. Added to that, we have most of our expat players back so we are feeling confident.”
There are also very strong emotions around the club at the moment. The Eagles will have in their hearts and minds fellow player Peter Maitland, who was badly injured in a road accident in Phnom Penh five weeks ago.
“Maitland had to have his lower leg amputated last week which is absolutely tragic for him, his fiance and his family,” Hattingh said.
The Eagles will have women represent the club and Cambodia in the AFL Asia Women’s Game on Saturday. “Growing the game and having women players is a club goal that we have had for a while,” Eagles president Paul Hurford said.
“We are absolutely delighted to have four women coming with us to Vietnam and to represent the Cambodian Eagles in the women’s game.”
The Eagles board has been active throughout the season and secured important sponsorship from a large number of Cambodian businesses.
“We could not run this club without the generous support of our sponsors. I want to particularly recognise the fantastic support that we get from Cellcard, our platinum sponsor, and from Giant Ibis Buslines,” Hurford added.