Nothing could stop the Brazilian football carnival from wowing Phnom Penh on February 12 as the Brazilian International Football Academy (Bifa) Cambodia was officially launched, despite World Cup-winner Roberto Carlos having to return to Madrid at the last minute.
Bifa Cambodia has been launched to harness the Kingdom’s talent and passion for “the beautiful game”, with footballer and academy ambassador Roberto Linck excited to give opportunities to young Cambodians.
“We see this as an opportunity to develop football here and in Asia. I loved the idea of opening Bifa in Cambodia because there are so many different projects we can do here.
“Take today’s event with Boostrong Energy Drink as an example. I loved that! The free-kick challenge and to be able to have the opportunity to take a player with the national team who is 16 years old and open some doors that maybe he didn’t have available to him,” Lincke says with passion.
Carlos – who is a coach at Real Madrid’s B team Castilla – was called back at the 11th hour for an engagement with Real, and he offered his heartfelt apologies for being unable to meet his Cambodian fans.
However, the chance to meet Carlos at the Bernabeu stadium – home of Spanish football giants Real Madrid – awaited the player who most impressed at the Boostrong “Meet the Legend” free-kick challenge at Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium as the new sport initiative was unveiled.
Ten football fans took to the pitch to test their sharp-shooting skills against Cambodia Under-18s goalkeeper Vireak Dara alongside Linck and Brazilian former midfielder Ricardo Alves Fernandes – the founder of Bifa – after winning a Facebook competition.
Linck, a striker with US side Miami Dade FC, judged the test of the competitors’ dead-ball accuracy.
After an impressive display, the field was whittled down to the final three, before the victor was declared and presented with a $1,000 winner’s cheque. Second place took home $700, with third bagging $300.
However, the star of the show was Dara, who caught Linck’s eye with a series of spectacular saves, and the Battambang native is now set to travel to the Spanish capital to meet Carlos.
Earlier, Bifa Cambodia – which is in partnership with leading investment and development company Riellionaire Group and supported by the Football Federation of Cambodia and the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport – was launched at NagaWorld.
The move comes on the back of the success of the first academy in Vietnam. Two students from Bifa Vietnam are currently training with clubs in Europe.
Alongside training Cambodian children in skills for life as well as on the football pitch, Bifa’s ultimate goal is to find talent for the professional game, Linck says at a gala dinner at Hard Rock later in the evening.
“My club Miami Dade play in the United Premier Soccer League [an American professional development soccer league]. We take younger players with the goal to develop them and get them at a bigger club. This definitely fits in with Bifa’s aims.
“When we first started talking to Bifa, that was our first idea. I said: ‘We need to have arms in Asia to take a look at players here.’ We have Bifa Vietnam, and now we have Bifa Cambodia to find kids in the Kingdom with talent,” Linck tells The Post.
The 31-year-old says he hopes to see Cambodian players at the higher levels of the game.
“I hope one day that can be true. It would be amazing. For example, picking Vireak Dara to meet Roberto Carlos – who knows what could happen there. Carlos could see him and train him. He can make this kind of thing happen.
“Could you imagine the headlines here in Cambodia if you have a kid training at the Real Madrid B team? That would be huge. These are the types of doors we are trying to open,” Linck says.