Footballers Playing for Pride

Cambodia’s national football team will travel to Jakarta on Thurs­day to compete in the final game of the Asia Cup qualifying round on Nov 21.

Not that it matters. The team trails both Hong Kong and Indo­nesia—the two teams in their qualifying group—by enough points that Cambodia already has been eliminated from progressing to the next round. The only thing Cambodia has to play for now is pride.

“Of course we feel disappointed,” said Sok Sitha, head coach for the Cambodian Football Fed­era­tion’s youth teams. “But we have tried our best already.”

Indonesia is a shoo-in for Asia Cup competition, with just as many points as Hong Kong, although it has more goals scored against opponents. So even if Cambodia beat Indonesia, Indonesia would ad­vance to the Asia Cup in Lebanon next year. Forty-two teams competed in the first round and 10 advance to Asia Cup competition.

Cambodia had a hard time this year, losing all its games. The team was also knocked out of contention early at this year’s South­east Asian Games.

This year, though, some talent has emerged. The team is led by its captain Choun Maline, No 15. Two goal-makers for the team are forward strikers Hok Soch­etra, No 9, and his counterpart Chan Arunreath, No 16.

The three of them will lead the team against Indonesia and future matches next year, as the team tries to qualify for the World Cup in 2002 and prepares for the 21st SEA Games in 2001.

Qualification for the World Cup first would take a favorable draw in December in Tokyo.

A good draw would put teams of equal talent against Cambodia, such as Laos and Burma, said Football Federation Executive Secretary Kul Sophana.

So for the next year, the team will be training, building strength and technical skills and preparing for a possible seed in the World Cup, as well as the 2001 SEA Games, Kul Sophana said.

The Cambodian Football Fed­era­tion, a member of the Inter­national Federation of Football Associations, has had a hard time recovering from not only the decades of civil war in the country, but also the factional fighting of 1997, which scared away sponsors.

Because of the lack of funding, the team nearly didn’t make it to SEA Games. Things are improving now, though, but more sponsors are needed, as well as money to start other football programs.

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