Underprivileged Cambodian Teens To Play World Cup in Scotland

After taking their first airplane flights and train rides, five teenage Cambodian football players danced to Khmer music in the 15 degree temperatures of Glasgow, Scotland, on Sunday morning in advance of their first match in the 2016 Homeless World Cup.

The tournament—which wasfounded in 2001 to use “football to inspire homeless people to change their own lives,” according to its website—began in the afternoon.

Cambodian fans watch a November World Cup qualifier against Japan at Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Cambodian fans watch a November World Cup qualifier against Japan at Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Keo Sang and Roeng Narat, both 16; Man Ramao, 17; and Long Sophearith and Chan Minea, both 18, were selected by their coach, Jimmy Campbell, from an eight-member squad that has been training since January.

All are part of the Phnom Penh-based Happy Football Cambodia Australia, which has represented the country in the tournament for the past eight years and works with about 100 underprivileged youth, its founder Paraic Grogan said from Glasgow on Sunday.  

“I think they’re just very excited about the whole experience,” he said of the crew who made the trip to Scotland. “When they’re here, they’re treated like professional athletes.”

Now that they have arrived, however, the cool weather may not be the only shock as the team—ranking 37th among 48 men’s teams—prepares to play clubs from Mexico, 2nd; and Indonesia, 14th, amont others during the first phase of the tournament.

“I don’t think they’ll realize some of the teams they are playing are very good,” Mr. Grogan said. “I don’t think they’ll realize how hard it might be.”

He said some teams in the tournament—like Japan—are comprised of much older athletes due to the demographics of homeless people in the country, while the Cambodian team is one of the youngest competing.

Matches feature four players on each side, including a goalie, and last a mere 14 minutes. They can be live-streamed on the Homeless World Cup’s website. Cambodia plays India today at 6:20 p.m., Cambodia time, and Argentina at 10:20 p.m.

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