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Footballers look to first tournament

Footballers look to first tournament

T HE Cambodian national soccer team has new Adidas uniforms, a $50,000

sponsorship from Marlboro with the promise of more for a three-year development

plan, and a date for its first international tournament in more than 25 years at

December's South East Asian games in Chiang Mai.

Its national body, the

Cambodian Football Federation, has been shaken up by younger

administrators.

The team also has a strong patron - First Prime Minister

Prince Norodom Ranariddh is "fanatical" about soccer, says the Federation's

"money-man" Ravy Khek.

The first national team to be selected by the

new-look Federation had its first game on July 23 against a Shenzen selection

from China. The Cambodians - who never expected to win - lost 1-4, but did score

first and showed they could play a bit.

"Cambodia used to be one of the

best teams in Asia," Khek said of the sport in the 1960s. "Thailand couldn't

match us, and we used to beat the likes of Korea (a country now with World Cup

and Olympic soccer credits). We have a natural talent for soccer."

Khek

has been busy rejuvenating a sport that has virtually atrophied since 1975. A

corporate league is now being played; sponsors approached - successfully, it

seems - to put money into the national and provincial teams, and into youth

soccer; and the Samdech Krom Preah Cup launched.

A national squad of 30

players picked in January is soon to be trimmed to 18 to travel to Chaing Mai.

They will be boosted by six Khmers now playing in the national leagues of

France, the United States, Malaysia and Switzerland, says Khek.

"The

average age is 25, and thats very old," Khek said of the current national team.

"We are going to test their tactics and fitness then make a decision about who

to take about a month before the tournament."

Khek says those who are

cut from the team "won't accept it" but "that's the thing we have to manage. The

national team is the elite team, we must be decisive and incisive." The players

are full-time professionals, usually on release from the military or government

departments, and get $50 a month plus game bonuses.

The lead-up to the

Chaing Mai games had been briefly upset by the founding of a "First Prime

Minister's X1" - something Khek said was done without Prince Ranariddh's

knowledge. "They got all the good players," Khek said, including 13 from the

national squad, "and that made some people very upset."

However, that

problem is now passed. "It has been accepted there is just one national team,"

Khek said, adding that Prince Ranariddh's team is another opportunity for

national players to gain experience. The First Prime Minister's team lost 0-1

against Shenzen on July 20. A second game against the Royal Air Cambodge team

finished 1-5 in favor of the visitors.

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