Cambodia's 2019 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games campaign was to take off in earnest as the preliminary rounds of the tennis competition began at the Rizal Memorial Tennis Centre in Manila on Sunday, with the petanque starting the following day and basketball and esports following on Thursday.
The football – featuring under-22 teams including two overage players – is already excitingly poised after Cambodia’s first two games.
Kicking off six-days before last Saturday’s opening ceremony, the Angkor Warriors drew with fancied hosts the Philippines in their first match, before thrashing Timor-Leste 5-0.
Sitting in second place in Group A, having played a game fewer than the Philippines in third, Cambodia face group leaders Myanmar in Manila on Monday at 7pm Cambodian time, where a win would put them tantalisingly close to a first ever semi-finals appearance.
The Kingdom has high expectations in the tennis and has sent its best talent, with local star Bun Kenny anchoring the group.
The French-Cambodian, born in Metz, France, in 1990, boasts an impressive 16-6 career win-loss record at ATP Tour level.
Kenny recently won the men’s open singles title at the Bank of Maldives National Tennis Championship, taking home $2,000 in prize money after beating Sri Lanka’s Sharmal Dissanayake in the final.
The biggest threat at the SEA Games is expected to come from neighbours Vietnam, with Daniel Nguyen, the first Vietnamese-American to play in the US Open, firmly eyeing two gold medals.
“I will try my best to bring home gold medals for Vietnamese tennis in both the singles and doubles events,” said the 29-year-old, who was born in Long Beach, California.
Currently ranked No341 in the world, in 2015 he reached a high of 189th and has participated in all four Grand Slam events.
Joining Kenny for the Kingdom will be Khleang Ponlok and Our Sarith for the men and Som Chenda, Ho Sreynoch, Ka Andrea Daravy and Krusling Grace Annete for the women.
Brimming with confidence
The petanque begins on Tuesday and, fresh from their success at the Cambodia-hosted 17th Women’s and Junior Petanque World Championships, the women particularly will have their eyes on nothing short of gold medals.
Brimming with confidence, the women’s squad will be anchored by Ke Leng, Ouk Sreymom and Un Srey Ya.
Leng bagged a record fourth consecutive World Championships precision shooting gold medal in Phnom Penh last month, while she and Sreymom won the doubles title at the previous SEA Games in Malaysia in 2017.
Srey Ya’s most recent win came at the Trophee L’Equipe in France in October, where she took singles gold, defeating Tunisian Mouna Beji.
Cambodia’s men, somewhat overshadowed by their female teammates, will have high hopes of their own.
Sok Chanmean won the singles bronze medal in Kuala Lumpur in 2017, while Nhem Bora, Thong Chhoeun, Heng Tha and Ya Chandararith took bronze in the triples.
Chanmean, Bora and Chhoeun have all returned to compete this year in the Philippines, where the petanque begins for both men and women on Tuesday with the triples.
Thursday will see the Cambodian national basketball team meet Thailand in their first match of the Games.
The squad is made up of Cambodian nationals as well as Cambodian-American players Chea Tommy, Dar Anthony Dominic, Hoeup Ravuth Joseph and Hu Richard.
These players are to compete in the traditional five-against-five format as well as in a three-against-three competition.
The Kingdom’s 3x3 squad contains four local Cambodia Basketball League players – Reber William, Chin Sophara, Tip Chhorath and Hour Pich Bonchour.
“We have played all the teams in previous SEA Games, so we know what to expect. We have more height on this year’s team, which has been an issue in the past.
“Our group of Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia is very tough, but if we stick to our game plan we know that any team is beatable,” said Cambodia technical director and team manager Austin Koledoye.
He also has confidence in his 3x3 players, saying: “They are the best players around here, they have been playing international basketball for the past four years and will surely be looking towards the medals table.”
The 5x5 competitions will be held at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay, with the 3x3 matches hosted at the Filoil Flying V Centre in San Juan.
Cambodia will also take part in the esports competitions in the Philippines, the first time the discipline will be contested as a medal event in a multi-sport competition sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee, after featuring as a demonstration sport at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia.
In the PUBG Mobile Club Open 2019 Global Finals, Southeast Asian countries took the top three spots against other regions including North America, Europe and South Asia, so competition this year should be fierce.
The competitions are to begin on Thursday at the Filoil Flying V Centre, with players competing in three categories – PC, console and mobile – each featuring two video games.
The six games to be played are Arena of Valour, Dota 2, StarCraft II, Tekken 7, Hearthstone and Cambodia’s speciality Mobile Legends: Bang Bang.