Cambodia’s raw but enthusiastic group of young field hockey players turned in a gutsy performance on Wednesday, beating one of Thailand’s frontline clubs Saraburi 5-2.
The victory came after Cambodia were outplayed by Thailand’s national team in a friendly just days earlier in the build-up to Asia zone Youth Olympic Games five-a-side hockey qualifiers to be held in Bangkok from April 25 to 29.
While Cambodia entered the women’s hockey arena a few years ago, this will be the first foray into regional competition by the Kingdom’s boys, who will be matching skills with some of the best in the continent aiming for two qualification spots to the Youth Olympic Games to be held in Argentina later this year.
Apart from Argentina as hosts, last year’s beaten finalists Canada and Mexico have already qualified from the Pan American zone.
While the Asia, Europe and Africa zones will send two teams each, Oceania has been granted three slots.
The Bangkok qualifiers will be contested by 11 teams after Oman pulled out.
Cambodia have been grouped with India, Korea, Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore in Pool A, while Pool B is made up of Malaysia, Pakistan, Thailand, Bangladesh and Chinese Taipei.
Despite falling behind twice, a strong second-half showing saw Cambodia sound the boards four times to complete a morale-boosting 5-2 win ahead of the qualifiers.
Saraburi shot into the lead nine minutes into the game, but Cambodia drew level within three minutes.
The Thai club then made it 2-1 just before half-time.
But after the restart it was Cambodia all the way as they scored at regular intervals in the second session.
‘Happy with our boys’
As the Khmer New Year celebrations were in full swing, the Kingdom’s young hockey hopefuls aiming for their first big competitive test could not match strides against a strong Thailand in the country’s first ever international hockey friendly.
Though Rama Anas managed to level Thailand’s first-half strike, the hosts were too strong and wily in the second half as they powered to a 5-1 win.
“This was a good game for us. The team had zero experience before today and this was our first international friendly,” team coach Asif Rana Masqsood said.
“I was happy with the way our boys handled the game against Saraburi. They were stiff competition for our team playing at this level in the qualifiers without any regional exposure at all.
“But playing against some of the best teams will certainly give our players a chance to improve in this futuristic 5s format,’’ Masqsood added.
The compact hockey 5s on a smaller field was introduced at the Youth Olympic Games in China’s Nanjing in 2014 after the inaugural edition in Singapore in 2010 used the outdoor format.
Australia beat Pakistan to clinch gold at the first ever Youth Olympics in 2010, and the Aussies went on to retain the gold four years later, beating Canada in the final 3-2 on penalties after regulation time ended 3-3.