OV Mal FC – the oldest futsal team in Cambodia – finally secured the one trophy that has eluded them in their long and illustrious history, when they emerged at champions at the Tiger Futsal Cup 2023.

In a thrilling 7-5 match on Sunday, September 10, they defeated Down Town Sport to clinch the title.

Founded in 2012, the club has won over 20 trophies in various private tournaments. However, the national indoor tournament – run by the Football Federation of Cambodia since 2015 – has seen them painted as the proverbial bridesmaids, finishing runner up on four occasions and placing third on another.

Ov Mal FC were victorious in each one of their group stage matches, and went on to secure first place in the second round winning four out of five games. This was enough to send them through to the final, where they faced the Down Town club for the second time. Ov Mal had earlier beaten their fellow finalists 5-4 during a second round meeting.

The triumph brought sheer joy and happiness to the club, as their decade of hard work and perseverance finally paid off with their first national-level title. The players, who had started their journey playing for fun and health, have evolved into semi-professional players.

Coach Ney Bun Sopheaktra described the match as an immense challenge, adding that the exceptional sills of both teams led to an intense and closely contested game.

“Down Town Sport are a good team with a strong defensive strategy. We weathered a flurry of aggressive attacks, and our team had to overcome some tough competition to secure the win,” he said.

Thanks to their first-ever national championship, many of Ov Mal’s players are now in the picture for spot at the football federation’s upcoming training camp. The federation is preparing to send a Cambodian team to the 2024 AFC Futsal Asian Cup, which is scheduled for early October. The team has been drawn in a group alongside hosts Uzbekistan, Iraq, and Malaysia.

However, Bun Sopheaktra – who previously coached the Mohahang team to the AFF Futsal Championship 2022, where they represented the Kingdom – warned that the quality of Cambodian futsal was still below the standard of many neighbouring nations.

During the 2022 competition, the Kingdom’s best result was a 2-2 draw with lightweights Brunei. Although they suffered a near 7-6 loss to Malaysia, they were heavily defeated 16-0 by Thailand as well as Indonesia, going down 11-2.

“We are still weak compared to many of our international opponents. When I led the Mohahang team in Thailand, we faced many stronger teams. They were playing at a significantly higher level than we were, largely due to their substantial investments in futsal. They have established annual leagues, professional clubs, and robust national teams, whereas our players are semi-professionals,” explained the coach.

For these reasons, he asked for the public’s understanding, should some results not go their way at the upcoming Asia champs.

“Whenever we compete abroad, all of the players give their utmost, however, we are aware that there is a gap in quality,” he said.

“If we aspire to witness the growth of Cambodian futsal, we need to make substantial investments in the game. If we do this, I firmly believe that within 5 to 10 years we will be capable of competing against opponents like Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia.

“We need to establish professional leagues and clubs that are capable of paying players similar salaries to the foreign clubs. Additionally, we must nurture young players. If they can develop their skills from an early age, in the future our futsal will be strong,” he added.