The Cambodian national U16 boys football team landed in Myanmar on Sunday ahead of the 2013 AFF U16 Championship, which kicks off today at Zabuthiri Stadium in Naypyidaw.
The host nation faces a tricky tie with Vietnam before Cambodia open their Group A account with an intimidating clash against Australia from 4:30pm Cambodian time.
The 20-strong squad named last week is predominantly made up of Phnom Penh Crown Academy players, who have played international club matches over the past three months as part of the FAM-Frenz U15 ASEAN Champions Trophy competition.
Crown finished bottom of the six-team Group A with two draws from their 10 games, highlighting a gulf in class between Cambodia and their regional rivals. However, the boys can take heart in some gutsy performances and their experience in the event can be regarded as a positive leading into the AFF tournament against some familiar players.
Meanwhile, reigning Metfone C-League champions Svay Rieng contribute five individuals from their youth team and 2012 league winners Boeung Ket Rubber Field have their goalkeeper Sim Mesa making the side.
Crown’s players in the squad include Suon Noeut, Long Phearath, Ouk Sovann, Sraing Titchhy, Orn Chanpolin, Pov Ponvuthy, Yeu Muslim, Ken Chansopheak, Seut Baraing, Sath Rozak, Chhuot Senteang, Men Piphop, In Sodavid and goalkeeper Svang Samnang.
The Svay Rieng boys are Ouk Dinarong, Chhoeung Sokheng, Kunthea Ravan, Chheam Ratana and goalkeeper Soam Sokundara.
Swiss coach Sam Schweingruber, who also takes care of Crown’s senior team, will lead the boys in Myanmar. He will be assisted by Crown Academy coach Bouy Dary, Svay Rieng youth team coach Keo Kosal, National Police head coach Ung Kanyanith and Svay Rieng goalkeeper coach In Sokha. Crown physio Lidwina Niewold will provide medical assistance.
Also joining the Cambodian delegation is Liverpool-born coach John McGlynn, who has plied his trade in Australia for the past three decades and recently obtained his FIFA A-Licence coaching certificate.
According to Crown press officer Andy Brouwer, McGlynn served with the United Nations in Cambodia in 1993 and returned to the Kingdom to support Schweingruber at Crown at the back end of the league season this year.
The U16 team played their final preparation friendly last Wednesday against Kirivong U16s, which they drew 1-1.
Schweingruber is wary that their opponents in Naypyidaw will likely have the upper hand in terms of physicality.
“We have a lot of small players, good technique and understanding, but physically going to be overpowered,” he told the Post.
“We have some good defending players – Narong and Titchy – build the centre with Barang and Noet on the sides . . . In midfield, Ravan is important to get us into scoring opportunities and our main striker is Santeang.”
The Swiss coach noted that their opening fixture against Australia had the potential to be “very brutal”.
“[They are] possibly one of the best teams in Asia or the world. We will need to be on top of our game to survive that game,” added Schweingruber.
Cambodia will go on to face Brunei on Thursday, a tie the coach believes is winnable with a good performance. Remaining Group A match-ups include Vietnam on Saturday and Myanmar the following Wednesday in which the Kingdom “hope to manage some surprises”.
“The dream is to qualify for the semi-finals, but for this to happen we need to work extremely hard to pull a lot of luck on our side,” said Schweingruber.
“We will do our very best to come away with at least 2 positive results.”
Group B will be contested by Singapore, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. Semi-finals are slated for August 31 with the grand final on September 2.