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French side bring home talent

French side bring home talent

A French based team, coached by Cambodian football legend Pen Phath, will arrive in Phnom Penh tomorrow to begin a five-match tour of the Kingdom against local professional clubs.

The Cambodian Select from France team, comprised of French residents whose parentage would allow them to play for the Cambodian national team, was initiated by Football Federation of Cambodia President Sao Sokha during an official visit to Paris in late January last year.

Pen Phath was appointed as the FFC representative and coach of the team in Paris, and charged with attracting and nurturing young Cambodian talent. About 30 youngsters from cities such as Paris, Lyon, and Nancy attended training sessions every weekend and during holiday periods.

During a recent phone interview with The Post, Pen Phath said that the tour was not a campaign to seek victories, but to strengthen the relationship between the top domestic players and those from France.

“I hope that FFC can see the performance of the players from abroad who always want to develop football in the Kingdom. We can choose them to help the national team,” he said, adding that this was also the intention of the FFC President.

However, Pen Phath predicts his squad will struggle against the local sides due to acclimatization and irregularity of training.

The first three friendly matches are scheduled to be played at Olympic Stadium.

On Saturday, the visitors take on military police side Preah Khan Reach. They then come up against Naga Corp on November 10 before facing league champions Phnom Penh Crown on November 13. The dates and venues of the final two games against provincial sides from Kampong Cham and Battambang have yet to be decided, with the team returning to France on November 18.

Pen Phath the snake
Pen Phath was one of the most famous Cambodian footballers during the Sangkum Reastr Niyum regime of the 1960s and 70s. Now 62 years of age, the Kampong Cham native started his career aged 15 for his local provincial youth team. He caught the eye of the national team coach after scoring a goal against the national youth team, and was called up to join the men’s team in Phnom Penh.

For more than a decade, Pen Phath featured in the Cambodian lineup recording many memorable victories. He also played for the National Bank backed club in the local league.

Many clubs from countries such as Iran, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam were interested in his talents, and before the civil war, he decided to sign with Thai Premier League team Rapracha FC, managed by a military general close to the Thai Royal family.

The Thai people considered him a hero, and gave him the nickname Keng Kang, a legendary snake in reference to his quick sideways movements in evading tackles.

During that time, he was also honoured with a place in the Asia Select XI. Pen Phath even met Pelé, who likened him to Garrincha, the Brazilian star of the 1958 and 1962 World Cups.

The Cambodian recalled a German club expressing an interest in him, but his manager at Rapracha vetoed the move.

In 1977, Pen Phath was allowed to sign for Paris FC, who played in the French third division. He ended his career as a player in 1982, after which he took on several coaching positions in France at district level.

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