A defender from the US Schools selection team makes a headed clearance off the line from a Kim Sopheak (number 9) effort during their friendly in Singapore. Photo Supplied
Surpassing all expectations and belying their international inexperience, members of the combined Indochina Starfish Foundation and SALT Academy women’s football team rounded off their tour of Singapore by finishing first and third in the seven-a-side Barclays Cup tournament.
“Victory for our team came against all odds and this successful tour has done a world of good for women’s football in Cambodia,” said Sam Schweingruber, the designated team coach who was forced to stay back in Phnom Penh after he was robbed of his travel documents, cash and a laptop barely hours before the team left for Singapore last week.
The coach was clearly in a reflective mood as players began their journey back home to various provinces after returning to Phnom Penh on Sunday. “It is bitter sweet for me,” he said. “On one hand, I had this nightmarish personal setback; on the other, I was delighted that the tour went so well for our members on the pitch as well as on the social front.”
The visiting Cambodian squad fielded two teams in the eight-team seven-a-side competition, which involved 10 minute games and was hosted by the United World College at their Dover campus.
The first team clinched the title Saturday at the expense of Singapore American School with a thrilling 2-0 victory in the final after narrowly edging out their own second side in the semifinals. The SAS has scrambled through their semifinal 3-2 by way of a sudden death penalty shootout against Overseas Family School.
In the third place play off, Cambodia’s B team came up with an extra time goal to pip Overseas Family School 1-0.
The sight of the imposing Jelan Besar stadium, where the side met a Singapore national U16 squad on November 22 for an 11-a-side friendly, was a jaw-dropping experience for many of the Cambodian team members, some of whom had never travelled beyond their own provinces.
Despite a nervous start, the visitors struck first against the run of play when Kim Sopheak found the net. The Singapore youngsters stormed right back with two goals before half-time for a 2-1 lead. Despite a strong showing in the second half, the Cambodians failed to find an equaliser.
In their second friendly last Wednesday against a US Schools Selection side, striker Dep Panida and free roaming midfielder Theary fired a goal each to steer the Kingdom’s girls to a comfortable 2-1 victory. The squad was also involved in two practice games against Singapore school teams in the run up to the Barclays Cup.
The Cambodians attended several social get-togethers, and a visit to the famous Singapore Zoo was part of their sightseeing package. Plans are afoot for a return visit to Cambodia by a Singapore junior squad next year, and several schools in the city-state have also expressed their willingness to undertake a tour of the Kingdom.