Cambodia’s inaugural Tiger Street Football tournament played out over the weekend with local side Anachak Baitong and a touring team from the Netherlands triumphing on each of the two days of competition at Wat Botum Park.
Thousands of fans flocked to the specially constructed cage pitch on Friday and Saturday, with the Kingdom’s best vying for national glory on day one and the top four sides going on to face off with four international squads on the concluding day.
As well as the five-a-side action, spectators were treated to an appearance from Italian World Cup-winning captain Fabio Cannavaro, this year’s ambassador, who was impressed by the level of football in this country.
“I am very proud, because the level is very good. There is lots of passion and the support has been very good,” Cannavaro told the Post after Saturday night’s climax.
On Friday, 32 teams from Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville and Siem Reap did battle in the national finals stage.
After the semi-finals, which were dominated by teams from Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville, the title decider was a hotly contested but one-sided match between Green Youth FC and Anachak Baitong, the latter emerging as worthy winners 11-2.
The champions, who took home a $3,000 prize, will go on to the grand final in Guangzhou in October, where they hope to further demonstrate Cambodia’s development in the game.
Following their victory, players from Anachak Baitong — who, alongside final rivals Green Youth FC, hail from the Ministry of Environment set-up — spoke of what the victory meant to them.
“We are so happy to have won, and it has been a fantastic event. We have worked hard and trained twice a week,” Mel Phanseyha said.
“Cambodians love football and it’s good to be able to use it to help youngsters. Together [with Green Youth FC and Green Empire] we are called Green Club. We also want to raise awareness of the environment through football.”
The support for Green Club was evident in the crowd, as a host of supporters gathered in the stands waving banners and scarves carrying the club’s emblem.
The runners-up on Friday took away a cheque for $1,000, while third-placed Charlo earned themselves $500.
Saturday’s international contest hosted some top touring talent taking to the stage in front of live TV, with outfits from Germany, Holland, China and Singapore battling the four elite local sides for a $5,000 bonus.
In a dazzling display of trickery and finesse, the Dutch triumphed, coming away as 3-1 winners against Friday’s runners-up, Green Youth FC, in a thrilling showdown.
Holland’s possession and skill on the ball proved too much for the hard-working Cambodians, who had to contain with shooting from distance after going down 3-0.
Supporters got behind Cambodia’s boys, but their efforts weren’t quite enough, despite a consolation goal late on prompting a fightback — greeted by frantic applause from the 2,000-plus crowd packed around the cage.
Out-of-breath Dutchman Achie Tarhouchi expressed his team’s elation at clinching the trophy.
“It’s beautiful to have won. We’re all really pleased, and so happy to be here. The standard of football has been excellent,” he told the Post.
In coming second to the clearly superior Europeans, Green Youth player Mok Chankarona said he was satisfied with the team’s efforts and paid tribute to their sponsor.
“I’m just so happy to have got this far. I would also like to thank His Excellency Hun Many and everybody who has come to support us.”
Tiger Beer teamed up with Fox Sports and the Football Federation of Cambodia to give fans more than just street football, with dancing girls, music and other entertainment on offer.
On Friday, German competitors the Street Eagles, who managed only third in Saturday’s tournament, showed off their flair on the ball before the Cambodian final, and popular singer Yuri performed two of her hit songs during the break.
This is the first time Tiger Street Football has come to Cambodia, and Asia Pacific Breweries commercial manager Artem Zyabkin praised a successful event with hope for even more next year.
“I am very pleased. Not only has it been a good sporting occasion, but it raises awareness of the game and helps the country to progress and move forward. Next year, I hope it’s even bigger,” Zyabkin said.
During the final presentation on Saturday, Anachak Baitong were given $2,500 and Germany claimed $1,000 in an exciting end to the Cambodian leg of the Tiger Street Football tour of Asia, which now heads to its second destination, Australia.
Stops in Mongolia, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam in separate months will lead up to the grand finals.