Cambodia's Men’s Homeless World Cup squad returned from Welsh capital Cardiff this week after a heartbreaking semi-final penalty loss to Sweden.
The young Cambodian side were 6-5 up in their Llewellyn Cup semi when they conceded with just five seconds to go to usher in the nerve-shredding shootout.
“The 10 days in Wales were amazing – flying and going overseas for the first time, playing so many games for Cambodia. We were very sad for losing against Sweden in our semi-final but we hope everyone in Cambodia can see we did our best,” Cambodia captain Kou Rath said.
The squad of Yeng Sokra, Sok Buntan, Tum Vutha, Phal Vannet, Sam Dam, Kou Rath, Srey Makara and Chea Seyma had Thong Kimhong as head coach.
Kimhong participated in 2015 when the competition was held in Dutch capital Amsterdam.
With their preparations shattered after arriving two days later than planned due to their flight to the UK being cancelled, the team took part in the opening parade before the matches came thick and fast.
Seemingly unfazed by their hectic start, Cambodia downed Asian football heavyweights Australia 4-1 in their opener.
But drawn in a tough first group, they lost to eventual Homeless World Cup winners Mexico and hosts Wales.
They also beat Denmark 8-7 on penalties after a thrilling 3-3 draw.
In the second group phase, the side recorded good wins against Finland and Belgium, with a narrow last-minute loss to Holland.
This was Cambodia’s 11th time competing in the event, with the help of Happy Football Cambodia Australia (HFCA).
“Our players spent years working their way through our HFCA youth academy to earn the right to represent their country on an international stage like the Homeless World Cup.
“It takes so much effort from HFCA to get them to countries like Wales. Then you see their commitment to playing for Cambodia for 13 games under the spotlight and you realise all the effort is worth it.
“They won the hearts and minds of all the other teams and supporters because they are magnificent ambassadors for Cambodia. I am so proud of the fine young men they have become over the last few years,” said HFCA founder Paraic Grogan.
The Homeless World Cup proved a truly memorable experience for the group of young, underprivileged Cambodians, none of whom had previously left the Kingdom, with the players learning a bit of Swedish and Polish during the tournament, while teaching Khmer to the Swedish and Polish teams.
Forty-eight countries entered the Men’s Homeless World Cup, with Cambodia eventually finishing 36th in the rankings.
With Cambodia having one of the smallest and youngest squads in the tournament, this is a achievement they and the Kingdom can truly be proud of.