WITH provincial qualifications complete, 16 Cambodian football teams enter the knock-out stages of the Samdech Hun Sen Cup this Saturday. All games will be played at Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh over the next two months, with the final occurring on March 28.
The competition is now in its third consecutive edition and is the top domestic football event in Cambodia. Fans, sponsors and media have taken strong interest in the event, with last year's finals attracting a total crowd of around 200,000, according to ffcambodia.com website. The Football Federation of Cambodia (FFC) expects this year's attendance to be even bigger.
A brief history of the Cup
Having been elected as president of the FFC in late 2006, Lieutenant General Sao Sokha, who is also the Commander of the Cambodian National Gendarmeries, has initiated a football development program consisting of grassroots, education of coaches and referees, and competitions.
The first Samdech Hun Sen Cup was organized in 2007. Twenty-eight teams from most of the cities and provinces in the country participated. There were two stages - group and knock-out. Sixteen teams that qualified from the group stage - played in provincial locations - progressed to the knock-out stage played at the Olympic Stadium. Khemara FC became the Cup's inaugural winners, beating Nagacorp FC 4-2 on penalties in the final.
Last years final saw Phnom Penh Empire FC emerge victorious with a closely fought 1-0 victory over Royal Sword FC.
Prime Minister Hun Sen has offered a cash prize of US$17,500 for the winners (up from $15,000 last year), $10,000 for the runners up and $5,000 for third. The first match on Saturday kicks off at 2pm and will see Kirivong Sok Sen Chey face Build Bright United. The match will be televised live on TVK. The second game features Phnom Penh Crown (formerly Phnom Penh Empire FC) against Prek Pra Keila at 4:15pm. The winners of each fixture go through to the quarterfinals.