Thursday, November 5, 2009

BIDC comes to town

The Cambodian Under-23s line-up against Singapore at the end of Sept
The BIDC Cup rolls into Phnom Penh beginning Sunday. Here's my preview of the Cambodian U23s for the PPP.

Football is back in the spotlight as the BIDC Cup comes to town

The Cambodian national Under-23 football team’s sights are set firmly on the Southeast Asian Games in Laos next month and they will use the BIDC Cup, which begins on Sunday at the National Olympic Stadium, as a gauge of their fitness and match readiness against one of their possible opponents in the SEA Games, Laos, and two of Vietnam’s best club sides, HAGL and VBN. Cambodia’s last competitive match on home soil was a 6-0 defeat at the hands of the Singapore Under-23 team on 27 September before national coach Scott O’Donell took his 25-man squad off to Vietnam for a month-long training camp.

A strict training regime for the past four weeks at the Thanh Long training facility just outside Ho Chi Minh City , together with a series of five practice matches against local opposition, followed closely on the heels of the end of the regular Cambodian Premier League season. O’Donell views the time away as time well spent. “The benefits of our stay in Vietnam have been that I’ve got to know the players better, particularly the ones that I have never worked with before. I think the players have also got to know each other better having spent so much time together. But more importantly it has allowed me to use this past month to get the players fitter than what they were before we arrived in Vietnam , and to get them thinking on the same wavelength as me regarding how I want them to play.”

However, O’Donell issued a note of caution. “Having said that, anyone who thinks that a one month’s training camp in Vietnam can make up for the lack of coaching, training and regular international exposure these players have received in recent years is kidding themselves. Ideally, the coaching staff should have spent this past month fine tuning for the BIDC Cup and SEA Games but instead have spent half the time getting the players to fitness levels required to play international football, and the other half of the time getting the players to understand how we want them to play. However, given the circumstances, the one month in Vietnam was very beneficial.”

The practice matches they played against local teams such as Can Tho and Ho Chi Minh City were an important factor in coach O’Donell’s build-up for next month’s SEA Games, as will the four BIDC Cup matches beginning Sunday. “The practice matches have been vitally important in terms of seeing if the players have been able to put into practice what we have been working on in training. Obviously match fitness is a concern because the fitness levels required to play international football are much higher than that required to play in the Cambodian Premier League. And it is not just the aerobic fitness levels, but also the anaerobic fitness levels that need to be improved. The ability to run at high intensity repetitively over ninety minutes is something our players are not used to doing.”

The 25-man Cambodian squad that returned from Vietnam on Thursday will be reduced to 20 before they play their opening game on Sunday. They have a few niggling injury worries, though coach O’Donell’s goalscoring options have been boosted by the return to fitness of striker Khim Borey, the winner of the CPL’s Golden Boot award in 2008, but who missed most of last term with a niggling ankle injury. He played his first football for nearly six months in a practice match on Wednesday. O’Donell was full of praise for his squad of players on their return. “I have been very happy with the attitude and effort of the players over the last month. They have been working hard and have showed great character and commitment but it is going to take time for them to adjust to playing the way I want them to play.”

Whilst Laos U23s and Vissai Ninh Binh face each other in the opening match of the BIDC Cup competition at 3.30pm on Sunday, Cambodia will meet Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL) under floodlights at 6pm the same day. HAGL, twice winners of the V-League and cup double in the last decade, finished sixth last season but are expected to push for honours next time around and have a smattering of foreign imports in their squad from Brazil , Thailand Czechoslovakia and Ghana . O’Donell was clear in his assessment of the task ahead on Sunday. “HAGL are going to be a huge test for the boys. Obviously they are one of the better teams in Vietnam ’s professional V-League and they have just finished a tournament in Phuket where they defeated the current Thailand league champions (Muang Thong United) and lost on penalties to the Thai national team. I think those results speak for themselves.”

And what does Cambodia ’s Australian-born coach expect from his team over the next week of competition? “My expectations are the same for every game that we play, whether it be a friendly game or a competitive game. I want the players to go out and try to play good football, and to do the best they can. If every player can come off the field knowing they have given their very best then I cannot ask for anymore. The BIDC Cup will be a good guide for me to see the players performing under pressure in a competitive environment against good quality teams.”

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