The Blue Dragons from Battambang NGO ASPECA tore apart their opponents Saturday in the inaugural Barclays Capital ISF U16 Girls Football Tournament
Photo by: Ulli Niedermeyer
A girl from Dunbar Rovers kicks past a player from Battambang Rangers during their group match at the Old Stadium.
FROM early Saturday morning, Phnom Penh’s Old Stadium started to swarm with young Cambodian girls ready to show off their football skills in the inaugural Barclays Capital ISF U16 Girls Football Tournament. Nineteen teams representing NGOs from across the Kingdom took part in the event organised by local charity Indochine Starfish Foundation (ISF), following their successful pilot competition last year which attracted the sponsorship of Barclays Capital for the next three years.
After opening speeches from organisers, the teams were sorted into four groups to play 9-a-side games lasting 25 minutes each across half pitches. The top two teams of each group progressed to knockout stage quarterfinals, building up to a thrilling grand final.
For over half of the teams, the end of the group rounds saw them exit the tournament in the early afternoon. With everybody having trying their best, the team buses began the journey back home full of pride from their experience and with medals gifted by Barclays Capital.
Of the eight teams left in the knockout stage, four hailed from Battambang province, each having finished top of their group. It was a clear indication of the advantages of a well organised and established youth league set up in Battambang. Indeed, the experienced teams had yet to drop a point heading into the evening matches.
Battambang Rangers (SOS Childrens Village, Battambang), booked their spot in the semifinals with a comfortable 1-0 victory over the Coballers (CCF, Phnom Penh) thanks to a solitary strike by Sey Sopeak.
The Blue Dragons (ASPECA, Battambang) dominated their game, but found it hard to unlock the defence of the Kangaroos (Makhala, Prey Veng). However, Lang Srey Pew finally broke the deadlock with a powerful shot into the top corner with three minutes remaining to secure ASPECA’s place amongst the last four.
The other quarterfinals were settled from the spotkicks after scores ended tied, with Battambang’s G-Girls and the Tonle Sap Teddy Bears emerging victorious over the Flying Tigers (ISF, Phnom Penh) and the White Pigeons (Battambang) to complete a semifinal lineup of provincial compatriots.
Despite the sweltering hot conditions, the youngsters showed absolute commitment, and some sublime skill, leaving no doubts about the progress of Women’s football in Cambodia.
In the first semifinal, the Blue Dragons soared to a convincing 3-0 rout of the Tonle Sap Teddy Bears, with Niw Panida, Huot Kimhong and Slang Rey Pew all finding the back of the net.
The other semifinal saw more drama from the penalty spot. While the G-Girls looked the stronger side for most of the game, with Mao Sokhoern showing outstanding command of the center of the field, they could find no way to break through rock solid Battambang Rangers defence, and the scores ended at a stalemate.
To everyone’s surprise, two of the G-Girls players with national team experience failed to convert their penalties to allow Rangers passage to the final. Chhourn Nipha hit the post and Mau Sokhouen’s attempt was saved by Rangers keeper Son Pitch, making her an instant hero in the team.
While the teams took a breather, local singing star Srey Noit honoured her invitation to support Women’s football and arrived at the stadium to view the final. Predictably, the Blue Dragons took the game to their opponents, controlling the play from the off to leave Rangers little hope of an upset. A corner kick landed in front of Roth Kakada, and the 12-year-old made no mistake from close range to open the scoring.
Minutes later, ASPECA team captain Huot Kimhong wowed the crowd with terrific speed and skill to coast past three defenders and finish coolly past keeper Son Pitch.
With the Rangers lacking the energy to produce any concerted pressure in front of their opponent’s goal, the Blue Dragons went unpunished for squandering a few more clear chances to end the final with a very well deserved 2-0 victory.
The Blue Dragons collected their winners medals and gleaming trophy and posed for photos with Srey Noit, while the Rangers were left disappointed with their second runners up placing in successive years.