Qualifying is now underway for the Hun Sen Cup, Cambodia’s premier football tournament. This year is the 17th itineration of the competition, and several reforms have been introduced.

Players, clubs, match officials and fans alike are excited about the improvements.

For the first time in the history of the prestigious competition, clubs are permitted to register and field foreign players, opening up the prospect of wealthier clubs rewarding big name players richly enough to bring them to the tournament.

“The team that lifts the Hun Sen Cup will be eligible to play in the Asian Football Confederation’s AFC Cup, so our quotas and rules around foreign players were designed to comport with those of the larger tournament,” explained Chikol Botra, deputy chairman of the cup’s organising committee.

More prize money will also be on offer.

The organising committee formally announced the changes at a March 27 workshop, held in concert with the Cambodian Football Federation.

“Each team or club must register a minimum of 18 players and a maximum of 35 for their squad. This number can include up to six foreign players,” it said.

Kits must be numbered – no higher than 99 – and three goalies must be included in each squad.

It explained that no more than four foreigners could take the field in any one match, and that there must be at least one Asian player among them.

Each club may select a match-day lineup of up to 21 players, including reserves, along with up to eight officials.

Up to five players can be substituted in three changes during play, aside from at the half-time break.

“Our main goal is to make the battle for the Hun Sen Cup more competitive and attract more fans. We have seen an increase in interest by those who appreciate the beautiful game, as well as from sponsors,” said Chikol.

Twenty teams have been drawn in four groups for this year’s qualifying matches.

Group A includes 2022 provincial champions Phnom Penh Galaxy, Kep province, Kampot FC, Preah Sihanouk province and the Kampong Speu education department team.

Group B consists of Kandal and Svay Rieng provincial teams, along with the education department squads of Kampong Cham, Kampong Chhnang and Tbong Khmum provinces.

Group C features Pursat Chheur Tom FC and Battambang Youth, as well as the provincial sidesof Pailin, Oddar Meanchey and Banteay Meanchey.

Group D will be contested by Kampong Thom Santepheap FC, Preah Vihear FC, The Siem Reap education department, Athireach Domrei Eysan , Ratanakkiri province and the Mondulkiri Provincial Sports Association.

This year’s prize money for both the provincial qualifiers and national matches jumps to 20 million riel – up from last year’s 17. The overall winners will collect 150 million riel, an increase of 40 million over the 2022 prize.