A Guide To Football In Cambodia

Football is the most popular sport in Cambodia. In recent years, there has been an influx of young players in the team, which has inspired many to try their hand at the sport and learn how to play it well. Today it is played by people from all walks of life and age levels across the 25 provinces of the tropical country of Cambodia.

Let’s learn about the history of football in Cambodia, how the sport gained so much popularity in the country and its current status.

History of football in Cambodia

In the early part of the 20th century, the French settlers in Cambodia introduced football in the country for the first time. In the following years, the sport became very popular throughout the country. This led to the formation of the Football Federation of Cambodia (FFC) in 1933 as the sport’s official governing body.

The FFC became affiliated with FIFA in 1953, and four years later, the federation became affiliated with the Asian Football Confederation. The team played its first international match with Malaysia in 1956. 

Between 1956 and 1972, Cambodia mostly played friendly matches while football gained roots in the country, and the quality of the sport improved. However, a civil war was brewing on the home front, and during this time, Cambodia did not participate in any of the AFC or FIFA World Cup qualification matches.

In the 1970s, the country’s premier, Sihanouk’s regime, was overthrown, and the Khmer Republic was formed. The event had significant political consequences, but it also led to the start of the golden period in football’s history in Cambodia.

In 1972, the national football team qualified for the AFC and finished fourth in the tournament after losing to Thailand. Amidst the political turmoil in the country, a national football championship was formed in 1982. The event comprised various state-run agencies, including the talented team of the Ministry of Communications. 

However, during that time, the football clubs were not allowed to participate in regional events, and the national team was not playing internationally except for an odd match or two with teams from Laos or Vietnam. The team returned to international football in 1993 but could not achieve any notable success in any tournament. However, in recent years, football has resurged in the country, and there has been a revival of interest in the sport among the residents.

Cambodian National Football Team

The Cambodian national football team was formed in 1933 and has played internationally since 1956. To date, the team’s most notable achievement is its fourth position in the 1972 Asia Cup, when it played as the Khmer Republic national football team. The team was not active internationally during the time of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s and the Vietnamese Invasion.

The team returned to international football in 1993 and participated in the Tiger Cup, where it was defeated in all matches. The team played in the World Cup qualification matches in 1998 but was unsuccessful. The team also withdrew participation from the 2006 World Cup qualification rounds.

At the regional level, the national team participated in the AFC Asian Cup qualification in 2000 but withdrew participation in the subsequent years in 2004 and 2007. The team has participated in the AFF Championship 8 times in 1996 and reached the group stage in all the championship rounds since its first appearance. The national team did not qualify for the World Cup 2018 and 2022. It reached the second round for the World Cup qualification in 2022 but could not proceed further. 

Football in Cambodia in recent years

In recent years, Cambodia has experienced a revival of football in the country after receiving investment from China for the development of the sport. Over the years, the country has produced great talent in the form of younger players, including Keo Sokpheng and Chan Vatahanaka, two of the most esteemed football players in modern-day Cambodia. Under the guidance and management of Keisuke Honda, who have opened a football academy in the country, the team is improving in terms of the quality of the game.

Domestic football competition in Cambodia

The Cambodian Professional League, also known as the C-League, is Cambodia’s highest professional football league. The league was formed in 1982 when Cambodia was the People’s Republic of Kampuchea. 

Currently, the Cambodian Professional League comprises eight teams, whereby the Cambodian Football League Company manages its affairs. It follows a promotion and demotion system with the Cambodian League 2, which was formed in 2016 and is the second-highest professional football division in the country.

The Phnom Penh Crown is the most successful football club in Cambodia. It has won the domestic championship eight times and is also the current winner of the series. The club has played twice in the AFC Cup. 

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