Snohomish United players (white shirts) are welcomed with roses by members of the Battambang first team Sunday. Photo Supplied
Girls’ football in Cambodia continues to reach unprecedented levels. The Football Federation of Cambodia hosted an international tournament in Battambang featuring guest team Snohomish United from Washington State in the United States.
Led by coaches Sy Reeves and Dan Struk and including eight players who had visited Battambang last year, the team consisted of 15 girls aged 10 to 17.
In the first match, local side Pursat squared off against the American girls. The match was hard fought, but errors put the Cambodians out the game early.
The opening goal came from a corner kick by Sarah Tuemmler, which looked to be an easy catch for the Pursat keeper, but popped out of her hands to nestle in the net.
Seconds later, Winter Wirkkala dribbled through to score with a neat left-footed shot. Further defensive frailties hampered Pursat, as a cross from Wirkkala was tapped in by an unmarked Whitney Carter at the back post. Carter then claimed her second with a similar move.
After the final whistle blew on a 4-0 victory for the visitors, the teams walked off exchanging handshakes and hugs.
Sunday’s second fixture saw Pursat battling it out with Battambang. The hosts showed superior passing and technical ability to quickly jump ahead within three minutes.
Battambang controlled much of the game early on, and were in complete control after 15 minutes. Coach Prom Chet decided to rest most of his starters to make the game more balanced, with both teams having their share of opportunities.
Battambang’s left winger Therah squandered both of her one-on-one chances against the Pursat goalkeeper, while 12-year-old teammate Ja missed one shot and had one saved.
Pursat finally broke their deadlock with a dangerous attack forcing a Battambang defender into handling in the area. The Pursat striker stepped up to convert the resulting spotkick and earned a respectable 1-1 draw.
Battambang versus Snohomish was a memorable match, with the advanced skills of the Americans thwarted for much of the game by the defensive might of Battambang.
The sides remained evenly matched until the 16th minute, when the Battambang keeper spilled a Zana Burnett strike to allow Sam Taylor to put her team in front.
Nine minutes later, Taylor cut back to Reimi Pieters who placed her shot past the keeper from eighteen yards out.
Winter Wirkkala picked up an assist in the 31st minute, as her cross from the left bounced off the keeper to land at the feet of the marauding Ashley Hoyt, who made no mistake with her finish.
Seconds before the end, the Americans claimed their third through Wirkkala, albeit controversially, as the linesman’s flag for offside was ignored.
After the game, Snohomish player Hannah Merisko praised the speed and strength of her Cambodian opponents. “They don’t just kick the ball, they run plays and play fast,” she said.
Nicole Salmi, who was one of those making their second trip to the Kingdom, noted an improvement in the standard of the locals. “This team has much better passing skills from last year,” she said.
The US team will travel to Kampong Chhnang to play the provincial side tomorrow, before heading to Phnom Penh to play games at the National Football Center. Matches have been arranged against representatives from Phnom Penh, Kandal and Kampong Speu provinces.
They are slated to attend yet another tournament on Saturday in Kampong Thom with the Kampong Cham team also invited. The Washington girls round off their hectic fixture list with games in Siem Reap on August 1 and Banteay Meanchey on August 2.
The series of friendly games was coordinated by Director of Women’s Football Sam Schweingruber, and will be used to select the best 10 teams for the upcoming inaugural National Women’s Championship in September.
“I am pleased with our girls’ opportunity to play talent from the US,” said Schweingruber. “It has enabled the girls to fine tune their game and will further encourage them to invest in the game.
“Overall, I am pleased with the level of improvement by Cambodia,” he added. “It is great to have partners from overseas who come to help us. The years of experience the young US girls already have will help our girls get better.”