Lively anticipation surrounds the start of the 11th AFF U16 Youth Football Championship on Sunday as Cambodia hosts the annual regional event for the second year in a row, hoping to perform better than its six previous group stage exits.
All 12 member associations of the ASEAN Football Federation were set to take part in the tournament featuring three groups of four teams.
But that configuration changed to two groups of six and five teams following Indonesia’s non-participation, though the ban imposed last year for political interference on the national team by FIFA was lifted on May 13.
Cambodia have been drawn in the five-team Group B, in the company of Thailand, Laos, Timor Leste and Brunei. The much stronger Group A consists of Myanmar, Australia, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia and Philippines.
As part of its preparations ahead of the opening fixture against Laos on July 11 at the Olympic Stadium, the Cambodian team will take to the same venue today for a friendly against Myanmar, which will kick off at 7pm.
At a joint media conference at the Football Federation of Cambodia, officials from both Cambodia and Myanmar regarded the warm-up game as an ideal build-up for their campaigns.
Cambodian football has enjoyed enormous public support ever since the international team made it to the second round of the World Cup qualifiers last year, through to its elevation to the third round of the Asian Cup qualifying cycle last month.
In previous AFF U16 Championship appearances, Cambodia have never got further than the group stage. Yet the team’s management is confident that with the positivity surrounding Cambodian football after the successes of the senior side, players at other levels of the game will be spurred on to also reach previously unseen heights.
The Championship will be played from July 10-23 at the Olympic and Old stadiums. The top two teams from each group will make it to knockout semifinals on July 21, with the title match and the third place playoff marked for July 23.
If the scores are level at the end of 90 minutes, no extra time will be played. Instead, the winner will be decided via a penalty shootout.