Cambodian Football - Rising..From the Ashes
By: jam Loving. Pictures by : Bobby Viceral. ( May, 2002 Volume 2 No.5 )

Cambodian football is rising from its war torn ashes with its National Football team under the leadership of Cambodian Football Federation president, Ravy Khek and German coach Joachim Fickert.
Due to many years of unrest in the country there was no organized soccer being played. The conflicts destroyed the records of the history of Cambodian football. All that can be pieced together at this time is from the memory of those who were there. Cambodia is remembered as being one of the strongest teams in the region during the 1950's and 60's, Ravy noted. When the Vietnam War spread to Cambodia, Ravy said football virtually disappeared. He pointed out that the team was competitive with Thailand, India and Burma who were then the best in the region. Fickert recalled that Cambodia had success in the 60's with wins over India, Japan and China.
After returning to Cambodia from France for the 1993 elections, the now 42 year-old Ravy began his quest to resurrect football in his war torn country. "There was no contact with the rest of the world," Ravy recalled of the time that the sport wasn't being played in his country. "We were not members of FIFA and the AFC. Once we became members, we received help," he said. It's been a rocky road in trying to restore the sport to its former prominence. The plan now is to get the team to be competitive on an international basis, which equates to training, money and experience. Ravy then organized a football league in 1994. A National team was assembled that went on to lose all of their 1995 SEA Games matches - giving up 32 goals and scoring zero. They then applied for the qualifying round of the World Cup for the first time ever in 1996. Per Ravy's request, the German Football Federation assigned Fickert in June of the same year to coach the Cambodian squad and to develop football in the country. It was his job to organize a competitive team and to find and train referees and some 400 coaches in nine provinces. Practice and playing facilities were scarce. There was no youth training program that Fickert could draw from to recruit for his squad. He had to start from scratch.

Fickert knew that he had to find young players with talent... the question was where do you find them? One resource was obtaining athletes from the military and police squads that already exist. He gradually replaced older players with a younger group who had enthusiasm and were willing to listen and learn the techniques of the game. With Fickert at the helm, the team then made a dramatic improvement finishing third in the 1997 Presidents Cup played in the Philippines. The squad continued their winning ways with a fifth place finish of the ten competitors in the 1997 SEA Games in Jakarta Indonesia. The program is to learn how to crawl, walk and then run to become competitive at the international level. To achieve that, they have to work with what little they have basically the bare necessities. The lack of money and sponsorship is holding the team back from improving and progressing. The team cannot prepare properly to compete in the upcoming Asian Games in August and the Tiger Cup in October. Through its GOAL-Program, FIFA pledged one million dollars over a four-year period to help develop football for the youths of Cambodia. Cambodia is currently a very young team with 5-6 players on their roster who still attend high school.

The 29-year-old Sochetra has returned to the squad and defender Pros Him, also 29-year-old, is practicing with the team and may also return. That will give the squad maturity and big game international playing experience. Their problem is after a lengthy time off the squad, they need to work themselves into playing shape. With all things considered for the team to improve and progress, it needs support and money. Money is needed to pay for the expenses to play friendly matches against top-notch competition for this Cambodian National team to rise from the ashes.