Cambodian women’s football makes another prominent leap forward with the newly formed national U14 team setting off today to Ho Chi Minh City for the Asian Football Confederation’s Festival of Football.
This is the first batch of girls ever to represent the Kingdom in an official AFC or FIFA sanctioned event, providing female participation in the beautiful game a clear pathway for growth.
The team went through five days of training in Phnom Penh at their final preparatory camp under head coach Sam Schweingruber and his assistants, including promising female coaches Leng Chanthy and Chhoeurn Nipha.
Former national men’s team player Nguon Kiri is also a member of the coaching staff. The squad was selected last month from a pool of over 50 players from across the country.
“This is the first opportunity for a Cambodian girls team to find out where they stand in comparison to countries that have been developing women’s football programmes for much longer. We can start gaining experience,” said Swiss-born coach Schweingruber.
The Cambodian girls will join teams from 12 other nations including Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, China, North Korea, South Korea, Japan and the Philippines. Each team will play eight matches over four days starting this Friday that require all 22 players on their rosters to log time on the pitch.
Although the competitive element has been somewhat neutralised with no overall winner of the festival, green cards will be awarded for fair play as is the convention in all AFC youth events.
“We hosted a local festival last year, played a few friendly games and the first national women’s championship was held last year, so I think this is the logical next step for development,” added Schweingruber.
“The boys [national team] have been going to these festivals for many years, so we’re really happy the Football Federation of Cambodia is giving the same opportunity to the girls this year.”
Five members of the team and assistant coach Chhoeurn Nipha are from Mighty Girls, a permanent select team and empowerment programme targeted at girls in Battambang. The programme founded by Schweingruber in September last year through his SALT Academy organisation.
The Mighty Girls project includes some of the most promising female football players in the country, who are pursuing their academic careers while training to become skillful footballers.
While several of the Mighty Girls have already represented their country in Laos and Singapore during friendly matches in 2009 as part of U16 squads, almost all others are going abroad for the first time.
Interestingly, two members of the team – Choek Kev from Kampong Thom and Uen Marina from Pursat – had never even visited Phnom Penh before the training camp.
Coach Schweingruber noted his hope for many of the players to get more opportunities to grow and represent their country in the future, such as at the SEA Games or the Women’s World Cup.
“I think they could do really well on the international stage with five or six more years of similar experience. The skill level, the passion, is already there,” he said.
The team’s final day at home before departure was spent playing a friendly fixture at 7NG field yesterday afternoon against the National Police’s U13 boy’s side, which they won 1-0, before grabbing some last minute inspiration from watching the men’s national team also win 1-0 against the Malaysian U23 Olympic team at Olympic Stadium.