THIS Sunday afternoon at the Olympic Stadium, local football fans will get a first look at the Cambodian U23 team that national team coach Scott O’Donell will be taking to Laos for the SEA Games at the beginning of December. Opponents come in the shape of Singapore U23, one of Asia’s best-equipped national squads who also play as a club side in the ultra-professional Singapore League under the moniker Young Lions. The visitors will present a stern test for O’Donell’s young charges at the 3:30pm kickoff time, in a game that will act as a barometer for the standard that Cambodia will need to attain in order to compete at the SEA Games.
Australian coach O’Donell has announced an initial squad of 25 players, from which he will select a starting 11 to face Singapore Sunday. The team will then get into some serious full-time preparation over the next two months, including training camps in Vietnam and a four-team mini-tournament in Cambodia in early November, the details of which are still to be confirmed.
Double header headache
The Cambodian Premier League playoff finals on Saturday will involve fifteen members of the U23 squad, so an early Sunday morning check on their welfare will be necessary before O’Donell can finalise his line-up for the afternoon encounter. It will be a welcome opportunity for the cream of Cambodia’s young players to demonstrate their potential against one of the best teams in Asia, and for the coach to identify the areas that he will need to focus on and strengthen during the course of the next two months.
O’Donell himself played in the Singapore league during his playing days, and his contacts helped arrange the fixture. “I know their coach well,” he said. “They wanted a game and could [only] make the 27th. Not ideal as we’ve got the CPL final the day before, but I’m looking forward to it.
“It’ll be a big test and our first real game. You’ve got to play the better teams to become better yourself, and I expect the Singapore players to be looking to impress to get into their final squad for the SEA Games. They’ve been training since December last year, playing as a club side in their professional league, and will have played 40-odd games already, so they’ll be more advanced than we are. It’s a good gauge for us.”
U23 SQUAD LIST
Sou Yaty, Samreth Seiha (Ministry of National Defence)
Peng Bunchhay (Phnom Penh Crown)
Lay Raksmey, Sok Rithy (Preah Khan Reach)
Pheak Rady (MND)
Tieng Tiny, Peng Panharong (Phnom Penh Crown)
Chan Dara (Khemara Keila)
Sun Sovannarith (Naga Corp)
Prak Monyoudom, San Narith, Khuon La Boravy, Keo Kosal, Nguon Chansothea (PKR)
Nov Sokseila, Oum Kumpheak, Lorn Sotheara (MND)
Chhun Sothearoth (Build Bright United)
Chhim Sambo (Naga Corp)
Phuong Narong (PP Crown)
Chan Chhaya, Keo Sokngorn (PP Crown)
Kuoch Sokumpheak (Khemara Keila) Khim Borey (MND)
With the SEA Games as the major focus this year for the coach, who returned at the beginning of June for a second stint in charge of the national team, O’Donell has clearly identified his objectives. “I want to improve on the performance from the last SEA Games two years ago,” he stated. “We had a couple of half-decent games and a very poor one against Thailand, and I’d like to do better.
“Its still early days. I’ve only been able to work with the boys twice a week for the last 6 weeks, so it’s too early to make predictions. But we aren’t going there to make up the numbers. We’re going there to achieve something. I have some good young boys, some very good players and I’m looking forward to working closely with them.”
Though he was reticent to pick out individuals, one member of his squad came in for some special praise. “I don’t like to highlight players,” he remarked. “But if there was one player in the last half of the season who stood out, then that’s the Army winger Nov Sokseila. He’s got everything I want in a player.
“Ideally, I’d like a couple more inches, but he’s got guts, determination, he’s aggressive, has good work-rate, he likes to take players on, which is great that he’s got the confidence to do that. He’s still got to learn. He has a short fuse sometimes. He’s got to learn to simmer down, but he’s one player who has really stood out. In fact, all the boys in my squad have done well in the CPL this season.”
Smart players needed
As for his own particular brand of football that he wants his team to produce, O’Donell is just as clear in his thinking. “I want the boys to play. I need contributions from everyone. I’m not interested in putting 11 men behind the ball or defending on our 18-yard line.
“We’re going to be smart, be disciplined, be well-organised, but when we get the ball I want players getting forward. You can’t score if you don’t get players forward. I want contributions from our defence, I want our midfield players getting into the box and our forwards working hard.
“We’re not a big team, so we’ve got to keep the ball on the ground, but I want to see the ball moving quickly. I want to see my players controlling the pace of the game, the tempo. We can’t play at one pace all the time. I want to see football that I enjoy watching myself. It’s very difficult to do that on the surfaces here. That’s why we’re going to Vietnam to take advantage of their training facilities and play against some strong opposition to get us properly prepared.”
The coach said that his squad would be staying in Vietnam for most of October, training twice a day, and playing five friendly games against V-league opposition. O’Donell said it would also include “lots of work including team building and psychological stuff, and getting into good sleeping and eating habits.
“Getting everything right [to make] the best possible preparation in the circumstances, including relaxing time, too, of course. It’ll be an intensive month at the National Training Centre in Ho Chi Minh,” O’Donell said.