Cambodia’s squad of young hopefuls head out to the Chilean capital of Santiago today ahead of participation in the 2014 Homeless World Cup, which starts on Sunday.
It has been an arduous journey already for charity organisation Happy Football Cambodia Australia, who have sent teams to the past six editions of the annual tournament.
Visa issues aside, the fund raising for this year’s entry has proved challenging, resulting in just three players receiving tickets to Chile and head coach Jimmy Campbell forced to stay at home.
Games, to be played on a specially constructed court in front of La Moneda palace at the Plaza de la Constitucion, will feature two seven-minute halves and allow a maximum of four players on the pitch at any one time. Thus Cambodia will require the addition of some extra players offered by the organisers.
“We’re looking forward to taking part in a great festival of football,” HFCA co-founder Padraic Grogan told reporters during a press conference at the FCC yesterday morning.
19-year-old midfielder Khoun Bora, 17-year-old striker Then Lang Eng and 22-year-old defender Pheng Phanna are the chosen trio to fly the flag for the Kingdom in Chile. They will play an expected 13 games during the men’s week-long competition, which involves 48 nations split into groups of six.
Brazil are the reigning champions after edging Mexico on penalties in last year’s final in Poznan, Poland. Chile won the 2012 event held in Mexico City.
“The players have been working extremely hard for the past nine months in preparation to go to Chile,” said coach Campbell.
“They are all very excited to go there . . . With a bit of luck, they will get some good results over there.”
Football fans can follow the progress of the team via the official website, www.homelessworldcup.org, with some games expected to be broadcast live on Youtube.
Weather conditions are expected to play in the side’s favour with Chile moving into its summer months.
“Cambodians are used to the heat, while some of the Europeans are not. This will give us an advantage,” added Grogan.
The Homeless World Cup is a unique, pioneering social enterprise which uses football to energise homeless people to change their own lives.
According to a press release from HFCA, over 70 per cent of the players which represent Cambodia at the HWC tournaments have improved their self-esteem, come off drugs and alcohol, moved into new homes, jobs or education, repaired relationships or become social entrepreneurs, coaches or players with professional or semi-pro football teams.
Four players from previous HWC campaigns are currently employed by HFCA as coaches.
“I grew up with the life of a scavenger, collecting recyclable materials at the rubbish dump for sale,” said Khoun Bora.
“I used to play football on top of the rubbish. But HFCA took me to train at their facility. Now my life has changed from the dark to the light.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY YEUN PONLOK, TRANSLATED BY IN SOPHENG