Coach Scott O'Donell leads the team to receive the welcome from the Laos delegation at the border The whole squad file one by one into Laos and to meet the SEA Games delegation
I know it's a bit out of sync after my posts today but here's the meat of a piece I submitted to the PPP today, based on the two-day bus journey from Phnom Penh to Vientiane with the Cambodian football team.
Chalk and cheese is how I would describe the enthusiasm with which the Laotian authorities have embraced the SEA Games compared to their equivalent in Cambodia (the National Olympic Committee). Of course, Laos are the hosts and there’s a suggestion they’ve gone into national debt to pay for the Games, hence their almost fever-pitch desire to get it right, down to the most minor detail. But the differences have been dramatic.
I left Phnom Penh on Saturday with the Cambodian football team on a bus that should’ve been retired to the bus cemetery years ago. The plastic seats were of the sweat-inducing variety, far from ideal for the nine hour journey to the Dong Kralor border, north of Stung Treng. The on-board toilet was broken, the video screen was out of action and when the players got on, they entered what resembled a mosquito breeding ground. An hour into the trip, everyone was still killing mosquitoes despite a hastily-purchased can of Raid. A short cut via Chhlong gave the bus-driver problems negotiating some serious pot-holes, and all in, exactly the type of journey that professional athletes should not have to endure. The best part of the trip was the lunch stop at the Malop Dong restaurant in Kratie. I won't comment on the number of toilet stops but it was a coach full of Cambodians, so enough said.
As we reached the border, everything changed for the better. Despite having to wait ninety minutes to get the immigration formalities resolved (on both sides), the welcome from the Lao delegation was heartfelt, the television cameras were present and the coach they provided for the second leg of the journey, put its Cambodian cousin to shame. Okay, the hotel (Hotel Malila, out of town but we arrived in the dark anyway) chosen for the overnight stay in Pakse wasn't ideal but it was clean and serviceable and the food they laid on for dibner and breakfast the next day at the Cham Paxaise restaurant, was appreciated by all. For the next twelve hours, we swept through southern and central Laos in a police car convey, backed by an army wagon mounted by machine-gun wielding soldiers. They were taking security very seriously.
The Cambodian team were welcomed into the Games Village by a traditional Lao band at 7pm Sunday evening. The accommodation, on the National University campus 17 kms outside of Vientiane, is acceptable without being plush and they trained twice on Monday, to get the two-day bus journey out of their system. Aside from Nov Soseila, who is nursing a sprained ankle, everyone is in good shape and the 20-man squad will train twice a day until they open their Group A competition against the gold medal favourites Thailand on Friday 4 December in Vientiane’s Chao Anuvong Stadium.
My article in the Phnom Penh Post on the squad's selection and Scott O'Donell's views, can be read here.
All quiet on arrival at the Cambodian border of Dong Kralor - no fanfare send off The players return from an early morning stretch and jog in Pakse Some of the players take on the game of petanque at the border crossing At one of our many road stops in Laos, the door was besieged by chicken on a stick sellers
Labels: Cambodian U23s, SEA Games