The Cambodian national football team has been kept busy over the Christmas holidays in preparation for their next test, the 2012 Hassanal Bolkiah Trophy (HBT) in Brunei in late February.
A squad of 33 have been training at the National Football Centre in Cheng Meng, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, for the past week under the guidance of under-fire head coach Lee Tae Hoon of South Korea.
HBT is an unofficial biennial tournament for ASEAN countries’ national U21 teams. It was first organised in 2002 by the National Football Association of Brunei Darussalam (NFABD) and named after Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, the 29th Sultan of Brunei.
The competition, now in its fourth edition, was skipped in 2009 following NFABD’s suspension by FIFA because of government interference. FIFA lifted the ban on May 31 this year.
Next year’s tourney will run from February 27 to March 5 and, according to the website www.aseanfootball.org, will allow each team to field five players over the age of 21.
Winners of the trophy will collect the princely sum of 20,000 Bruneian dollars (US$15,500), with 10,000BND for the runners-up and the third- placed side earning 5,000BND.
Cambodia finished bottom of the group in the inaugural edition of 2002 but advanced in their next appearance in 2007, thanks to a 6-0 trouncing of the Philippines. But they were booted out in the semifinals with a 10-1 demolition job by eventual winners, and reigning champions, Thailand.
Thailand are the clear favourites, having also won in 2005 and lost to Indonesia in the 2002 final. Myanmar have come in second in the past two HBT events.
Ieng Saknida, who has returned to his position as Lee’s assistant coach after completing a stint in the AFC’s coaching elite program in Kuala Lumpur, said the squad had been trimmed to 25 players, which would be whittled down to 18 for the trip to Bandar Siri Begawan.
“The South Korean coach will also make some changes following his observations during the upcoming matches of the Hun Sen Cup in Phnom Penh,” Ieng Saknida said.