As Cambodia coach Prak Sovannara sharpens his focus on reinforcing the national team, he will be looking at the ongoing seven-nation Hassanal Bolkiah Trophy U22 tournament in Brunei as a window of great opportunity to harness the young potential under his wings.
The 45-year-old coach, now serving his third stint at national level, is planning to give an airing to at least half a dozen young talents, hoping to help them break into the first team.
Cambodia face Laos in their opening Pool B tie at the 30,000 capacity HB National Stadium on Saturday, with their second game two days later against Singapore, who have already thrashed Laos 5-1,
With just three teams in the Kingdom’s group, a win against Laos will most certainly clinch a place in the next stage.
Launched in 2002, the Brunei youth championship is organized by the Football Association of Brunei Darussalam in collaboration with the Asean Football Federation. The winners will take home the trophy and $15,200 prize money.
Indonesia and Malaysia have opted out in favour of taking part in the PSSI Invitation Cup in Indonesia.
While Cambodia failed to get past the group stage in 2012 and 2014, they made it to the semis in 2007 but had the bitter experience of losing 10-1 to Thailand.
The tournament is restricted to players under 22, but squads are allowed to include three over-aged players.
Sovannara has opted for seasoned 29-year-old striker Khoun Laboravy from Boeung Ket, who appeared as a substitute for the side in their 4-1 win over Myanmar’s Shan United in the AFC Cup on Wednesday night.
The other two are 26-year-old NagaWorld midfielder Sos Suhana and 22-year-old Preah Khan Reach Svay Rieng defender Soeuy Visal.
Instilling a winning mentality
The Football Federation of Cambodia decided to retain the services Sovannara with a caveat that his tenure may only last until the federation succeeded in ongoing talks to secure the services of a coach from the Czech Republic.
But that uncertainty has had no impact on Sovannara’s plans to rebuild the team, and some of the young players now under consideration have the opportunity to break into the first team.
Having been convinced that the former Svay Rieng, Naga and Boeung Ket coach was the logical choice to pull the national team in the right direction, the FFC has firmly put its faith in him, and Sovannara made it abundantly clear before the team left for Brunei earlier this week that his mission would be to see the team perform at its best and that the players he has picked justify their selections.
At the heart of the Sovannara doctrine is his drive to instil a winning attitude among his players.
The coach had some regret that he was unable to put together a pre-tournament training camp for the squad members.
The Metfone C-League schedule and Khmer New Year break contrived to deny him that luxury.
“Most players were busy with their league engagements. I wish I had more time to get them all together. But that did not happen,” Sovannara said.
“I have to do what I need to with the resources available to me. There could be some problem with tactics but I am sure we can handle it.”