Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodia leap past Poland

Cambodia leap past Poland

Cambodia leap past Poland

With thousands of home fans screaming their support, the Cambodian disabled volleyball team completes a 3-1 victory in their WOVD World Cup opener Monday

CAMBODIA opened its 2009 WOVD Volleyball World Cup campaign with a convincing three-sets-to-one victory over a powerful Poland team at the Olympic Stadium on Monday.

Despite holding a clear advantage in height, the Poles were unable to match the superior speed, fitness and athleticism of the Cambodian team buoyed by a boisterous home crowd.

Cambodia were down 3-6 in the first set due to the dominant play of Poland’s Adam Stepien and some uncharacteristic unforced errors. However, the home side fought back to claim the set 25-22 behind the sublime work of veteran Chhim Chhandy, who made two valiant saves and a scoring block into the Polish defence, as the Europeans became increasingly agitated.

The second set proved an epic, much to the delight of the crowd, as Poland rallied from 17-10 down to tie it at 25 thanks to some monstrous spikes from Stepien. The lead changed nine times over the next 16 points, before simple errors and Stepien’s brutal left hand broke the Poles clear to win the set by the required two-point margin, 34-32.

The length and intensity of that gruelling second set seemed to drain the visitors, who were clearly struggling with acclimatising to the tropical heat, and they duly lost the following sets 25-11 and 25-16 to give Cambodia the win.

“I’m glad to have that game out of the way,” stated Cambodian coach Christian Zepp after the match. “We made a lot of mistakes. We only played down one side. Most of our attack came from the one spot, not the two or three spot.”

Front men Chhim Panh and Man Veasna were on sterling form for their country, combining to block back several booming attacks at the net, and link up for some strong spikes down the middle. Pin Sarath made up for a poor early service game to register some magnificent scoring plays down the stretch against a tiring defence.

Poland also became frustrated with some of the officiating, approaching the net umpire several times during the match for clarification.

“I thought it would be a close game, but I expected them to be tired because they just came in last night at 9pm, I think,” revealed Zepp. “So that’s been the main reason that we won here”.

Though tournament director Chris Minko agrees that Germany – who won the World Cup in 2007 and the world championships in 2008 – are the prohibitive favourites, he expects that two different teams will be playing for the gold medal.

“[We’ll be] No 1, mate. Nothing less,” assured Minko.

“I actually think that the German team’s getting old. They’re very good, but a bit old. It will be between Cambodia and Slovakia. Slovakia has a really strong team.” The teams will meet each other tonight at 6pm for their preliminary round matchup.

Australian-born Minko – who helped set up the Cambodian National Volleyball League (Disabled) in 1999 – said that the Cambodian fitness regimen, which includes a supervised diet, no alcohol and two months of in-house training, will help lift them past traditional powerhouse Germany.
Earlier, Bun Rany – wife of Prime Minister Hun Sen and president of the Cambodian Red Cross – officially opened the tournament in front of a bustling crowd of over 2,000 children, match officials, dignitaries and others.

“This event is a powerful symbol of the Royal ability to decrease hardship and increase the rights of the disabled,” Bun Rany said during her speech. “It eliminates the discrimination of the disabled. In this spirit, I’m very proud of our national teams in international competitions. I would encourage all to help organise these events in the future.”

Minko said he expects the crowd, which remained deafening throughout the match Monday, will increase as the event draws closer to Saturday’s final, especially as Cambodia has a very realistic chance of making it all the way.

“Yesterday, we had bigger crowds than the [CNVLD] league this year, just watching the Cambodian team train,” he said.

Preliminary round matches run from Monday til Thursday, with semifinals Friday followed by the championship game and third-place playoff Saturday.