Saturday, August 25, 2007

Its only a game...

More than a game for Cambodia, football plays the balm
by Mohammad Amin-Ul Islam from IndiaTimes Sports.

At times, football can be a healer. By the simple act of kicking a ball, the game can scoop out fun and excitement hidden inside individuals. Even nations. Watching the visiting Cambodian side in the ongoing ONGC Nehru Cup seems to give an impression about their inherent joy of being footballers particularly when you know that Cambodia’s past is replete with tragic memories. Ravaged by internal strife, Cambodians virtually forgot how to smile. There ruled a sense of deep insecurity. But football has been able to kick out every possible worry; it has given them a ray of hope and happiness.

Cambodia is playing football. And that seems to be the biggest news for a country which is slowly coming out of the debris following the political turmoil in the 1970s. In its capital Phnom Penh, still recovering from decades of warfare and civil unrest and plagued by terrible poverty, football events remain few and far between. But even a few of them seem to affirm that Cambodia is making progress. Battered by its opponents abroad and beset by scandal at home, the national team is currently ranked 171st in the world. "We don’t have facilities as other countries enjoy. Still, we are trying with our sincere effort to promote football," Cambodia’s Aussie coach Scott O’Donnell told TOI. Four years back in 2003, FIFA did its bit to bring about a change in Cambodia’s football set-up. The hopeful light of a new beginning emerged with the inauguration of a FIFA Goal project - new headquarters for the Cambodian Football Federation (CFF), a national training centre and a grass field were all unveiled as part of a major project. "True. We don’t have facilities like other Asian countries. We also have very few football grounds for practice, let alone hosting tournaments. Yet, the federation is trying every possible step to develop football," explained 21-year-old midfielder Keo Kosal.

Back home, Cambodia is currently hosting the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Youth Football Championship. Interestingly, it is the first time that Cambodia is hosting a sport events after its tragic past ravaged the country. Though they have already lost two matches here, this young side will return home with loads of confidence. Besides, the event has taught them the most essential lesson of how to stay united against odds. In the process, they have put their faith in football’s basic principle, which can defuse the animosity back home. "Most of us in this team are students. We are not professional footballers. Hence, this tournament has been a tremendous learning experience for us," added Sam Minar, a crucial member of the team. Will they come to play in Indian clubs? Both Minar and Kosal smiled, and modestly added: "We play good football. If we are considered good, then why not play in the Indian league which, we have heard, offers good money."

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