Saturday, December 01, 2007

World Cup dreams shattered

The WOVD World Cup Trophy, made from melted-down AK-47s
It’s no exaggeration to say that just 1 man stood between Cambodia and a place in the WOVD Standing Volleyball World Cup Final. That man was Slovakia’s captain Josef Mihalco who led by example as he and his team scraped through to the final against Germany, with a 3 sets to 2 victory over Cambodia in the semi-final last night. The result could’ve swung either way in a thrilling climax but it was Slovakia who held their nerve in the fifth and final set, and Mihalco in particular, who shattered Cambodia’s dreams of a place in the final. Without their captain, Slovakia would’ve come off second best to the home country who were inspired by a vociferous and partisan crowd, but Mihalco scored more than 50% of their points and proved to be the game’s most influential player, even outshining Cambodia’s Mean Veasna and Nhen Buntheoun, who were both outstanding.
Slovakia established a lead in the first set but Cambodia hit back with Veasna hitting three consecutive winners to put Cambodia in front. Mihalco pulled his side level and in a nip and tuck ending, Slovakia closed out the first set 25-21. Cambodia came back immediately to draw level, winning the second set by the same scoreline, 25-21. Spurred on by the noisy crowd and a bank of drummers who raised the tempo and temperature with their incessant beat, Cambodia visibly rattled their Slovakian opponents and Mihalco in particular lost his cool, getting a yellow card for disputing every call. In the third set, Cambodia took the lead but were pegged back by their opponents, who forged ahead to win the set 25-17. The fourth set had everything. The teams exchanged the lead before Slovakia looked to be pulling away, only to succumb to a spirited fight back from the home side who made it all square in sets with a spectacular 28-26 win.

With Germany awaiting the winners in today’s final, the lead changed hands time and again in the fifth and final set, with Slovakia putting their superior height and weight advantage to good use and of course, who else but Mihalco won the game with a trademark smash. Agony for Cambodia, ecstasy for Slovakia who knew they had 1 man to thank for their progress through to the final, Josef Mihalco. Cambodia still have an extremely creditable third place to play for in this afternoon’s clash with Poland, but their dreams of a World Cup victory on home soil lay in tatters.

Leaving the Olympic Stadium with the other disappointed Cambodian supporters, those I spoke to were full of praise for their volleyball stars who have restored a lot of pride in the Cambodian shirt and flag with their courageous displays in the past week. Jumping on a moto, I made a quick dash to catch the opening of the Wayne McCallum exhibition of ‘environmental portraits’ at the Two Fish gallery café on street 278, entitled Faces of the Cardamoms. McCallum’s pictures, taken between 2004 and 2007, highlight the beauty of the Cardamoms and its inhabitants, in an environment in transition which the photographer fears will likely disappear in the next few years.

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