Cambodia's Homeless World Cup team flew home from Norway yesterday with their heads held high after a storming run in the annual global competition that saw them reach the KNIF Globe trophy final for the second year running.
The side’s 18-year-old super striker Mut Sakpich, who found the net an impressive 18 times in 13 matches, said after the campaign: “To be captain of my beloved Cambodia in an international football tournament in Norway is the greatest honour of my life. I love wearing the Cambodian jersey and to score 18 goals makes me so proud.
“My teammates were amazing. I hope all the Khmer people are proud of us. We played for them and gave 100 percent in all our games.”
Flying out of the blocks from the start in Group C, the young Cambodian squad of Som Sokla, Sakpich, Kin Ratana, Long Sovatha, Choeun Sochat, Seng Saray and goalkeeper Van Ream racked up victories over South Korea, 7-5, and Germany, with striker Sakpich bagging five goals in a 5-3 win.
In a rip-roaring third match, the Kingdom’s representatives tagged Italy back at every point and looked nailed on for a deserved 4-4 draw until with just five seconds left Cambodian hearts were broken as the Italians snatched a late, late winner.
Cambodia’s momentum stalled somewhat in the final two matches after such a crushing disappointment and they fell to losses to a strong Romania side and reigning world champions Mexico.
Cruelly, had the knife-edge Italy result gone Cambodia’s way, they would have eclipsed their qualifying performance in last year’s edition. As it was, having finished fourth in their six-team Group C, they made it into the fifth-tier KNIF Globe tournament, the trophy they won in 2016.
Cambodia regrouped and came out fighting, the Globe title-holders edging Czech Republic 6-5 in a pulsating quarterfinal.
The semifinal proved to be a more straightforward affair, with Cambodia steamrolling Israel 6-1 to make it to the Globe final for the second year running.
They were to be reunited with strong qualifying Group C rivals Germany as they prepared to defend their crown in the stage final.
In an entertaining back-and-forth affair, Cambodia eventually fell 5-3 to the Germans, who took over their mantle as Homeless World Cup KNIF Globe champions.
“We were delighted with the Cambodian team’s performance here in Oslo. Playing 13 games in such a short period was a huge challenge for our team but the Khmer warrior spirit meant they gave everything in all games,” said Paraic Grogan, the team manager and director of Happy Football Cambodia Australia, who organise Cambodia’s participation.
“Our performances against Czech Republic and Israel, where we won both matches to reach the final, were fantastic. Losing to Germany in the final was hard for the players as they so wanted to win for the Cambodian people, but Germany are a great football power so there is no shame in that.”
This year’s tournament proper was won by samba boys Brazil, who edged champions Mexico 5-4 in the final to lift the 2017 Homeless World Cup.
After a great Cup campaign, the Cambodian squad returns home with increased confidence and pride after such a positive experience, having met people in similar situations from all over the world and received a warm Scandinavian welcome.
For all the staff at Happy Football Cambodia Australia, after a short break the search begins to find the next batch of talented players to represent their Kingdom and people at next year’s Homeless World Cup.