17 year old prodigy Keo Sokngorn
My discussion with the Cambodia national football coach Prak Sovannara
at the Olympic Stadium yesterday revealed a remarkable statistic. I'd previously thought the average age of the Cambodian national team was somewhere in the twenties but as Sovannara went through the list of his 18-man squad that had just returned from Bangladesh, and reeled off each player's age, we quickly realized that his squad was even younger than I first thought. 22 is the average age with three teenagers in the team, the youngest being the 17 year old star of the future, Keo Sokngorn. Sovannara was effusive in his praise for the teenager, who is on the books of the current league champions Phnom Penh Crown. "Keo Sokngorn is a wonderful prospect at just 17 years old. He always gives 100% and has great talent. When I play him I give him the freedom of the park. I have to be careful not to expose him too quickly but he is a player with a very big future ahead of him." True to his word, the coach sat Sokngorn on the bench for the games against Bangladesh and Myanmar, introducing him in the second-half of each game, though he did start him against Macau and the youngster rewarded him with a goal. The two other teenagers are the 19 year old pairing of goalkeeper Samreth Seiha and talented sriker Khim Borey. Both have come through the youth ranks and have been regulars in the national squad for a while, belieing their tender years. Seiha is an exciting goalkeeper to watch, agile, brave and the best in the country, though a dispute with his team National Defense Ministry is casting a shadow over the start of his domestic league season. Borey has already proved his ability as a goalscorer, winning the golden boot award last season as the country's top marksman, but he too is in limbo after his club made serious allegations against the two players in a recent Hun Sen Cup game.
With the majority of the squad in their early twenties, the exceptions are national captain Kim Chanbunrith, who is the elder statesman of the team at 30, whilst number two goalkeeper Ouk Mic is close behind at 29. Pok Chanthan, recalled for duty after missing the international games in 2008, is 27 and Sam El Nasa is 25, though seems to have been playing for the national team forever, having made his debut as a teenager. Sovannara is upbeat about his squad. "With such a young squad that gives me confidence for the future. Players like Seiha, Borey and Sokngorn, all teenagers, have many years to improve and grow in the national team. I would like a series of friendly matches both home and away to strengthen our team as a unit, work on areas that need improving and to continue the progress I saw in Bangladesh. This team can only get better." Amen to that I say. With such a youthful national squad to work with, Prak Sovannara is carrying the nation's hopes forward and its his job to mould that youthful exuberance with the experience of seasoned players, into a force to be reckoned with in Southeast Asian football. It won't happen overnight but the signs are good that Cambodian football is set to end its spell in the doldrums.
Labels: Cambodia football, Keo Sokngorn, Khim Borey, Prak Sovannara, Samreth Seiha