Decision Makers Torn Over World Cup Final

As Lionel Messi and Thomas Muller get set to battle for the biggest prize in football, some of the government’s biggest players stand torn between German precision and Argentinian flair.

With the 2014 World Cup final set to light up Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana Stadium on Monday morning, the excitement has penetrated all arms of Cambodian authority—from the National Assembly to the military police and all the way to the prime minister’s office.

Senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap confirmed on Friday that “most of the leaders like football,” and predicted that Germany’s strikers would lead the favorites to victory in Brazil.

“I particularly like Thomas Muller and [Miroslav] Klose. I am a fan because they hit some very good goals,” Mr. Yeap said.

Muller is the tournament’s leading scorer with five goals. Klose kicked his second of the tournament in Germany’s 7-1 semifinal thrashing of Brazil, making him the most prolific scorer in World Cup history with 16 goals.

“I chose Germany because this national team is fantastic,” Mr. Yeap said. “They strike, defend, and play fast with outstanding technique.”

Prime Minister Hun Sen, an avid football watcher, on occasion punctuates his public speeches with comments about international football tournaments.

Mr. Yeap said that the prime minister would reserve his judgment until the match was underway. He said that Mr. Hun Sen’s innate knowledge of the game meant he could predict a winner after seeing the opening moments of the clash.

“Samdech [Mr. Hun Sen] knows clearly about the techniques of football so Samdech will know who will be the winner after he sees the teams’ techniques in striking and defending,” Mr. Yeap said.

While Mr. Yeap was counting on Germany’s goal-poachers to prevail, Brigadier General Kheng Tito, spokesman for the National Military Police, said that Argentina’s football culture would carry them to their third World Cup championship.

“For the champion of this World Cup, I and other military police think Argentina will be the champion,” Brig. Gen. Tito said.

“Although I have no time to watch the live play, I watch the highlights and sports analysts and the Argentinian national team has played so well and every player in their team is the best,” he added.

Prior to the World Cup, police and military police said they would make a joint effort to crack down on illegal gambling on the matches. Asked Friday if there were any wagers placed among government officials, he said there was, but that no cash changed hands.

“Indeed, we just bet on who will be the winner but there is no money involved because that is illegal,” he said.

Siding with Mr. Tito on his preference for the World Cup winner, Son Chhay, the chief whip of the opposition CNRP, said he would like to see Argentina walk away with the trophy, though he had no plans to watch the game.

“We are hoping that the World Cup stays in South America, because it is an important part of their culture. We would like to see it stay there for a while before moving to another region,” Mr. Chhay said.

Mr. Chhay drew a distinction between the appreciation of sports among ruling party officials and leaders of the opposition.

“Among our leaders, I don’t think anyone is seriously following the World Cup,” he said. “I think it is a gambling thing, not about sports. So that is why they [CPP officials] are interested.”

“We like sports too, but we like to exercise and take care of our bodies, not sit in front of the TV smoking cigarettes.”

The Union of Youth Federations of Cambodia, headed by Mr. Hun Sen’s son Hun Many, will host a World Cup party across from Wat Ounalom on Monday morning.

The union will set up a giant screen and broadcast the final live and for free. Although its organizers said they are expecting between 500 and 1,000 people to attend, Brig. Gen. Tito said security forces would be mobilized in case rival fans clash.

“Some fans will have verbal betting while others who are football extremists will gamble—so we need to strengthen security in case there are arguments among the fans,” he said.

Long Dimanche, spokesman for City Hall, agreed with his counterpart in the military police on the need to strengthen security for the World Cup party, but was of a different mind on who will be crowned champion.

“I believe Germany will be crowned World Cup champion,” he said. “It will be the first time in history that a national team from Europe becomes champion at a World Cup tournament held in Latin America.”

Mr. Dimanche, too, said that he did not gamble, but for different reasons to Brig. Gen. Tito.

“I always lose, so I don’t bet,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Colin Meyn and Van Roeun)

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