Cambodian national head coach Prak Sovannara is sharpening his focus on a trip in April to Brunei Darussalam for the Sixth Hassanal Bolkiah Trophy U21 football tournament named after the King of Brunei.
With less than a month to go until Cambodia’s tough encounter with Afghanistan in their final Group C fixture in the third round of Asian Cup qualifying at a neutral venue in Tajikistan, Sovannara said he has one eye on youth ahead of the upcoming event for Asean member states.
Launched in 2002, the Hassanal Bolkiah Trophy youth championship is organised by the Football Association of Brunei Darussalam in collaboration with the Asean Football Federation and involves all member nations.
Cambodia made the semifinals of the tournament in 2007 before going down 10-1 to Thailand, while in 2012 and 2014 the Young Warriors exited in the group stage.
The Football Federation of Cambodia decided to retain the services of Sovannara with a caveat that his tenure would last until the Federation succeeded in ongoing talks to seek a coach from the Czech Republic.
Nearly three weeks after Brazilian Leonardo Vitorino was sacked, the 45-year old Sovannara, who was the first coach from the Kingdom to earn an Asian Football Federation A licence, was recalled in early November last year for his third stint at international level for the friendly against Myanmar, which preceded Cambodia’s home clash against Jordan in Asian Cup qualification.
The team far exceeded expectations by holding out well against a superior Jordan before losing 1-0 at Olympic Stadium, against the backdrop of the team having been beaten 7-0 in Amman in the first leg at the start of the campaign under Vitorino’s watch.
Give youth a chance
Having been convinced that the former Preah Khan Reach Svay Rieng, NagaWorld and Boeung Ket coach was the logical choice to pull the national team in the right direction, the FFC has firmly put their faith in him.
Acknowledging the huge responsibility on his shoulders, Prak Sovanara told The Post, in an exclusive chat on the sidelines of the FFC Congress at the start of the week, that the ideal strategy at this stage would be to look to consolidate the national team and infuse a winning attitude in the players.
“I am not playing down the significance of our match against Afghanistan on March 27 away in Tajikistan. We beat them at home for our only win so far, and we need to end this campaign on a positive note. But I am looking at the prospect of using the Asean stage that the Brunei tournament provides to strengthen the team,” Sovannara said.
“Football is all about talented youngsters getting the right break at the right time, and I intend to use this under-21 event to give promising youngsters a chance to prove their ability.”
As for team selection ahead of the Afghanistan tie, Sovannara said: “We already know almost all the players and their capabilities. I have a chance to look at three weeks of the new league season. I will go for the best I can pick and hope we do well.”
Meanwhile, the acting secretary-general of the FFC, May Tola, confirmed to The Post that the Czech initiative to secure the services of a well qualified coach was still “very much on”.