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We want to reach the semi-finals at the SEA Games: interview with Football Federation Cambodia (FFC) technical director May Tola

The FFC (Football Federation Cambodia) official logo

Stagnation is the most appropriate word to define the status quo of Cambodian football. The men’s national team of the former Khmer Empire has lost all the matches played in 2012 and 2013, and its most recent results have been a 0-7 thumping by Turkmenistan and a 0-8 annihilation from Southeast Asian counterparts Philippines. Also, Cambodia’s position in the FIFA Ranking is currently at 199, the team’s lowest ever.

However, the governing body of local football, the FFC (Football Federation Cambodia), is eager to reverse the trend and give disappointed Cambodian fans something to cheer about in the near future, especially by growing up local talents who could help the national team’s cause.

We spoke to FFC technical director May Tola to discover what’s in store for Cambodian football in the years to come.

How is Cambodian football progressing at grassroots level? Does the FFC have any plan to increase the number of areas where it’s currently played?

Grassroots football in Cambodia is increasing popularity and it’s played more and more by community, schools as well as NGOs. We see that every year, more football activities/events have been organized by the aforementioned institutions to provide opportunities for children and people to take part in football. In our long term development of football, grassroots is one of our top priorities. We will be increasing activities mainly at provincial level and at schools to promote the game among children and adults.

Cambodia has a great percentage of youth people. Do you think their interest is growing in these last years?

Yes, there are more youth teams and players who play football officially and unofficially each year.

Where do you think Cambodian football should improve most in this moment?

We will have to reform our competitions structure and format to provide more opportunities to play football nation-wide. In this moment, because of limited infrastructures (stadiums, pitches etc), football is more organized and played in Phnom Penh, while there is a much greater number of youth footballers in all provinces and districts. We need to have more coaches, volunteers, teachers to be football educators and leaders in our community.

Which are the chances of seeing overseas-based half-Cambodian players, such as Chhunly Pagenburg of FSV Frankfurt and Colorado Rapids’ Davy Armstrong, wearing the national team’s shirt in the future?

We have been contacting Chhunly and Davy Armstrong for the last few years, but it seems that they had to give priority to their professional career in Germany and USA. We always welcome overseas-based players for Cambodia.

Do you think there are Cambodian players who could play abroad at professional level? If yes, could you name some of them?

There are some Cambodians from Australia, France that came for a trial but they have not been successful. As I don’t have much information about others, I can’t say who can or cannot play for the country. But, the fact that there are some players currently in professional leagues such as Chhunly and Davy Armstrong, means that they have good quality.

Which are Cambodia targets for the upcoming SEA Games in Myanmar?

We have to be realistic, if we set our target for the last four [the semi-finals] of the tournament and we manage to do it, then it would be an enormous victory, [it would be] historical and also a big surprise, which could always happen in football. Any target lower than this, won’t make any impression.

Why did the team perform so poorly in the last qualifiers for the 2012 Suzuki Cup and 2014 Challenge Cup? Which were the biggest problems and weaknesses in your opinion?

The problem is the quality of our league (players’ performances, level of coaching, duration of the league), which is still low compared to the [Southeast Asian] region. Another problem was the preparation of the team, which was very short and in poor conditions, and all this made the players’ spirit not very tough and stable.

Which has been the influence of politics in Cambodian football in the past? And what about now?

The influences of politics in Cambodian football have been more positive than negative. The positive thing is that politicians give more support financially, with materials and infrastructures which are needed for football. However, sometimes politicians use football for their own individual interests, circles, parties, but not in the name of the nation which should be the motto of the game.

What are your thoughts about ASEAN football in general? Do you think the region is improving in the right direction?

ASEAN football has been an additional platform to improve politics, culture, solidarity and of course football technical development as well as economic interests of its members. These benefits have been stable or gradually improving in last years. However, recent political chaos in the world from FIFA to AFC and all the other continents has influenced ASEAN spirit and solidarity. But I’m confident that, by believing in the good nature of experienced people in ASEAN now and in the future, they can agree with each other for the development of the game and share it with all the members.

By Christian Rizzitelli

Some videos:

Highlights of Cambodia’s 4-2 win over Laos in the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers on June 29, 2011,, the team’s last competitive victory:

Cambodia’s last defeat against the Philippines:

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