Sovannara the perfect host
Today the 22-man squad - with 4 additions to the successful qualifying group of players - had their shirts on their backs as they pushed themselves hard in training, knowing that physical fitness will be one area where they can match their opponents. Sovannara is a realist as we talked about the teams opposing Cambodia in their Group A games in Jakarta, starting with the opening match of the competition against the holders and favourites Singapore on Friday. "We were badly beaten by two of the teams in the group when we played them in Indonesia a few months ago, and Singapore won the cup last time, so we have a lot of ground to make up. But my players have trained hard for this and they want to show they have improved. It's eleven against eleven and on the day anything can happen, especially with luck on our side." Certainly spirits were high in the camp as Sovannara introduced me to the players for an impromptu photo session before they finished off their morning session with a light-hearted practice match with extra training for the losing team. A few blisters and a strapping on left-winger Chan Rithy's right knee were the only injury concerns as the team prepares to fly to Jakarta tomorrow evening. The 22-man squad will be accompanied by a team of ten officials, including head coach Sovannara and four assistant coaches, a physio and Cambodia football federation officers.
Aside from a security guard and my motodop, I was the only visitor to the National Football Centre, some 17kms west of Phnom Penh, out along Route 4 this morning. The Centre was unveiled in January 2003, built with a $400,000 grant from FIFA under their Goal Program to developing countries. Hidden a few kilometres from the main highway, it was a quiet oasis where the players were clearly enjoying their time together, even though its been just two weeks since they were all playing in the final matches of the Cambodian domestic league season. Hardly sufficient time to prepare properly for the most important tournament of their young careers. "They've all worked very hard, I'm very proud of them and I've seen great improvement over the last few months. We were a bit lucky in qualifying and I hope we will have more luck in our next three games too," said Sovannara as he handed me a football as a souvenir of my visit.