Sophal Odam (right), the newly installed captain of National Police Commissary, trains with teammates at the 7NG Field in Phnom Penh on Monday, ahead of tomorrow’s 2011 Samdech Hun Sen Cup group stage opener against Prey Veng provincial team in Prey Veng. Preliminary round Cup action takes part at four centres across the Kingdom over the next five days. Photo by: Sreng Meng Srun
A new football campaign unfolds on “liberation day” tomorrow, when the group phase of the 2011 Samdech Hun Sen Cup involving 32 teams simultaneously kicks off at the four provincial centres of Battambang, Takeo, Kampong Thom and Prey Veng.
At stake for a heady mix of professionals and part-timers, established teams and loose coalitions, top-tier units and provincial novices, is a huge purse to go with the national pride of winning the most prestigious domestic competition.
It is in the inequality of the teams that the tournament derives its intensity and offers different strokes for different players. The timing of the event this year is near perfect, as national team players representing various clubs get in some match play practice in the lead up to two crucial international fixtures against Macau in the Asia Challenge Cup in the second week of February.
For fringe players trying to break into national reckoning, the group phase and subsequent knockout rounds to be held in Phnom Penh afford a chance to catch national team head coach Lee Tae Hoon’s eye. The South Korean is almost certain to watch as much of action as he can with note pad and pen in hand to draw out a shortlist of candidates.
For well-funded teams, the stage is set for shaking off the notorious inertia that normally sets in after a long break. To start the Metfone C-League season on the right foot weeks after the conclusion of this event is so crucial for teams beginning their quest for top league honours.
Provincial sides have nothing much to lose but everything to gain in a set up like this.
Each of the eight groups will be headed by one of the Metfone C-League outfits with the exception of Khemara Keila, who have pulled out due to financial constraints. Chhma Khmao, one of the two teams relegated from the top tier last year, replace Khemara as the premier side of group E.
Defending league champions Phnom Penh Crown begin their crusade under new coach Bojan Hodak, who will miss the three preliminary matches due to commitments towards obtaining his UEFA Pro coaching license in his native Croatia.
Crown have drafted in Kouch Sokumpheak from Khemara Keila and Khim Borey from National Defence Ministry during the off season, and the two formidable front men could not have hoped for a better environment to blend in.
There is no opposition worth the name for Crown in a group D pool filled up with three relatively weak provincial sides.
League runners-up Preah Khan Reach have a wish list that includes bringing in players from the team’s youth pool into the main stream.
Manager Ork Samnang sees absolutely no threats to the team’s safe passage to the next stage and hopes that by then, the newcomers would have found their right footing.
Friendlies in neighbouring Malaysia during December should prove an added advantage for the military police backed side.
For defending Cup champions MND, the exodus of many key players may cut deep, but assistant coach Hor Sokheng is confident that new players will rise to the occasion.
MND lost local heroes such as Khim Borey, Nov Sokseila, Samreth Seiha and Sin Dalin during the post-season reshuffle.
An interesting proposition in MND’s group F is Division 2 winners National Police Commissary, who are also relishing their promotion into the Metfone C-League this year. Manager Suo Moniroth notes his team’s absolute fitness and boundless energy as clear positives. Life may not be that easy for Life University in this group, but having qualified for the second phase twice before, they will looking for a miracle of sorts to maintain their strong tradition.
For established University backed side Build Bright United, the storyline is slightly different. The team have acquired Keo Chea and Heng Sok Ly from Crown to reinforce the squad that finished third in the league last year. Manager Bun Pich Mony feels BBU is cut above the others three in group B.
Sensational defeats in the Super 4 playoffs saw Naga Corp end in a disappointing fourth in the league, and vastly experienced coach Prak Sovanara is determined to start the new year on a brighter note. The former national team coach said his players had been training well and were ready to reclaim lost ground.
While most of the provincial teams are desperate to make the Phnom Penh rounds, previous experience against top clubs for these lesser mortals have not been particularly promising. An official from one of the provincial sides noted: “every good performance, every victory, even every goal and every save our goalkeepers make come as a blessing because this is the only chance we get to play with the country’s best.”
It is this spirit of competition that enlivens the Samdech Hun Sen Cup as a whole.