Excitement is running high throughout the Kingdom as the new year welcomes the season opening fifth edition of the Samdech Hun Sen Cup from January 7. Cambodian premier domestic football competition serves as a symbol of supremacy for provincial sides worth their salt and affords a chance for less illustrious ones to rub shoulders with some of the best in the business.
The week-long preliminary phase runs involves 32 teams split into eight groups of four, each playing simultaneously at four provincial centres – Battambang, Kampong Thom, Prey Veng and Takeo.
The top two teams from each of the groups then progress to the knockout rounds beginning on January 22, with all games played at Olympic Stadium. The grand final is slated for February 26.
All the Metfone C-League teams - with the notable exception of Khemara Keila, who have pulled out due to financial difficulties - will be vying for honours. National Defence Ministry thrillingly prevailed 3-2 over Phnom Penh Crown in last year’s epic final which went into extra time.
Attractive cash prizes are on offer with the winning squad assured of 80 million riels (US$19,750), runners-up taking home 40 million riels and third place finishers banking 20 million riels. There are also individual cash bonuses for the top goal scorer, best goalkeeper, best referees team and a fairplay award for the best behaved team in the tournament.
The timing of the competition assumes crucial importance, with members of the Cambodian national team getting in some match practice ahead of their February 6 and February 16 home and away fixtures against Macau in the AFC Challenge Cup.
2011 Samdech Hun Sen Cup team Groupings
Group A - Prek Pra Keila, Kon Rithysen, Banteay Meanchey, Mekong Kampuchea University
Group B - Build Bright United, Battambang, Oddar Meanchey, Pailin
KAMPONG THOM CENTRE
Group C - Preah Khan Reach, Preah Vihear, Chhlam Samuth, Kratie
Group D - Phnom Penh Crown, Kampong Thom, Baksey Chamkrong, Neak Khiev
PREY VENG CENTRE
Group E – Chhma Khmao, Western University, Stung Treng, Kandal
Group F - National Defence, Prey Veng, Police Commissary, Life University
Group G - Naga Corp, Takeo, Kep, Sihanouk Autonomous Port
Group H - Kirivong Sok Sen Chey, Kampong Speu, Kampot, Koh Kong