The level of optimism and buoyancy surrounding Cambodian football has never been higher as the National under-23 squad embarks on its SEA Games campaign in Singapore and the senior side celebrates its historic passage to the second round of the World Cup qualifiers.
This fascinating tale of two missions will reach its climactic phase in the next few weeks, which are expected to be the liveliest football the Kingdom has experienced.
“We’ve never had such a situation before. Two national teams competing at two different levels at about the same time, at least as far as the SEA Games and the first two group matches of the World Cup qualifiers are concerned.
“Naturally, there is a lot of excitement and high anticipation in the air for everyone involved – the coaches, players, administrators and the fans,” May Tola, the spokesman for the Football Federation of Cambodia, told the Post yesterday.
“We want both our teams to do well. There is no priority of one over the other. We have to approach SEA Games with a sense of pragmatism and the World Cup qualifiers with a tinge of realism, as it is a lot tougher proposition,” May Tola said.
May Tola said that the interim arrangement of the technical director of the FFC, Japan’s Kazunori Ohara, being moved up to assume charge as the head coach of the senior side for the first two home matches, against Singapore on June 11 and Afghanistan on June 16, was born purely out of necessity due to the extraordinary circumstances of two national teams being in action around the same time.
South Korean coach Lee Tae Hoon’s second-term contract of two years officially ends in July, but it is highly likely that the South Korean, who is currently preparing the under-23 squad for the Singapore Games, will be entrusted with the job of carrying Cambodia through the rest of the second round campaign, which runs until March next year, with Ohara reverting back to his role as technical director.
The appointment of the Japanese coach to oversee the first two matches is in no way a statement on Lee Tae Hoon’s future, according to the FFC spokesman, who made it plain that “it is still open-ended”.
“Contrary to some suggestions in social media circles, the two coaches are determined to work together for the betterment of Cambodian football as a whole,” May Tola said.
“There are absolutely no differences between them. The federation had a meeting with both some time ago and they are on the same page.”
Olympic Stadium gets new pitch
The under-23 squad departs on Sunday, and they play their first group A match against the Philippines at the Jalan Besar Stadium on June 3. But the day before the team sets out, the president of the FFC, Sao Sokha, will address the players and officials at the Olympic Stadium, pinpointing the significance of this particular mission for Cambodian football.
The FFC is also lining up unprecedented cash bonanzas for the team. Every win in the group stage will be rewarded with $10,000, while an entry to the semifinals will bring in $30,000. The team will pick up $100,000 if it makes the final, no matter what the result.
At least eight members of the under-23 squad, whose names have already been registered for the Cup qualifiers are likely to join the senior side after the completion of the SEA Games.
The Cambodian senior side will play two international friendlies early next month, hosting Laos in the first warm-up game on June 2 at the Olympic Stadium before meeting Myanmar in Bangkok on June 5, six days before the big game against the Singapore Lions,
Meanwhile, the Olympic Stadium pitch is sporting a new look with the spread of synthetic turf in a FIFA-funded project that took nearly seven months to complete. Several warm-up games have already been played on this new surface, but the FFC is still awaiting final inspection by a FIFA team and certification from the world’s governing body.
However, FIFA has given its permission for FFC to hold Cup qualifying matches against Singapore and Afghanistan on this new surface, and both games are expected to draw huge crowds.