OVER 800 players from 51 youth football teams gathered on the field of Battambang’s Institute of Technology on Sunday to mark the opening of the latest ANZ-SALT Academy season, following weeks of preparing coaches with training in leadership skills, basic coaching and refereeing.
Thirty-eight volunteers had attended a basic referee class from November 23-26, organised with the Football Federation of Cambodia (FFC), and received certificates from FFC technical director May Tola.
The children, 200 of whom were girls, were given a speech by main sponsor ANZ Royal Bank’s brand manager Chhoeung Chhiv Ear and by Samaritan’s Purse representative Wayne Bloomquist. The youngsters were reminded about their importance to the success of the league and how they could benefit from being part of a football team.
The football federation welcomed the young players into the “football family of Cambodia” and encouraged them to try their best to help improve the level of the game in the Kingdom.
Encouraging words by Tok Bonthuen, Deputy Director of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, followed a speech from Sem Mary from the Provincial Government, praising the efforts of the Sports and Leadership Training (SALT) Academy in creating opportunities for youth to have fun and learn life lessons by being part of a sports programme.
The kids finally got a chance to show off their new uniforms and demonstrate their skills in a knockout tournament played on quarters of the big field. All 51 teams played at least one 15-minute game, with the winners advancing and the losers forced to wait until the following Sunday when the season starts.
At 5pm, the finals of each age category took place. The girls U16 final saw ASPECA beat the girls from Rapha House in an entertaining 2-1 match, with the decisive goal coming in the last second from by national team member Huot Kimhong.
ASPECA also managed to win gold in the U12 boys division, beating the Catholics team 2-0.
The U14 boys final was a great game between the Catholics and the young Jerusalem boys, with the Catholics scoring a late penalty to clinch it 2-1.
The final matchup, between the Blue Bird and the Crossroads U16 boys team, saw the 14 players crowding the small pitch area. An early goal by Crossroads that was only just squeezed through the defensive line and past the goalkeeper proved the only difference between the sides.
Spectators, coaches and players were left hungry for more, and the season will no doubt oblige with games every Sunday until the end of March. The organisers said they were excited to see the children off the streets and competing in sports, learning more about team work and receiving life skill training whilst also having fun.