An announcement Tuesday that Cambodia’s national football team will face Singapore in an Oct 11 “friendly” match has players, groundskeepers and government officials scrambling to ensure that the team—and the Olympic Stadium—are presentable for the first match to be held in Cambodia with another national team since 2001.
For Cambodia, which has been outscored 8-72 since 2003 and winless in its last 10 international competitions, the match will be a tune-up for the 2005 Southeast Asia Games that begin in Manila on Nov 20.
“We need all the games we can get and we want to play against the strongest competition,” said Cambodian national coach Scott O’Donell.
“We are in the process of inviting five or six teams to come and play. It’s good for the boys to learn how to cope with international competition,” he said.
Asean Tiger Cup Champion Singapore, who last defeated Cambodia 3-0 in 2004, is considered one of the strongest teams in the region.
“It’s going to be a friendly match that will be beneficial to both sides,” said Mitchell Lee, Singapore Embassy first secretary.
“It’s going to give the Cambodian team some international exposure and it gives our team a chance to have a few games before the SEA championships,” he added.
But with less than a week before the contest, football officials are worried that the appearance and functionality of the dilapidated Olympic Stadium may strike a blow to national pride.
Once the centerpiece of Phnom Penh and in the 1960s a showcase stadium in the region, the 70,000-capacity sporting arena designed by renowned architect Van Molyvann has degenerated into a state of disrepair. Cambodia declined its turn to host the 2004 Tiger Cup based in part on concerns about the stadium’s condition.
“The condition of the stadium is not good. We need to step up our standards if we want to host international competition,” Cambodian Football President Khek Ravy said.
“I told Prince [Norodom] Ranariddh that we need not only an upgrade of the playing field but we need to restrict its use and reserve it for the national team. The Prince agreed to make some renovations,” Khek Ravy said.
Three weeks ago, Prince Ranariddh, National Olympic Committee president, criticized the stadium for being dirty and ordered the hiring of a private firm to clean the facility.
The Hor Yien company was later granted a five-year contract to maintain the stadium in exchange for the right to operate busy parking lots around the site.
Though the stadium was strewn with litter and refuse on Monday, Hor Yien employees—all wearing green jackets emblazoned with the National Olympic Committee logo—were observed working on Tuesday.
“Things are under repair right now,” said Duong Meas Chamroeun, a CFF official who anticipates 6,000 to 7,000 spectators for the Singapore match.
“They are cutting the grass so that they can level the field. The stadium was built long ago. It is not good but it can be used,” he said, adding that the digital scoreboard is broken, but that plans are in place to remedy this.