Despite Long Odds, Cambodia has World Cup Madness

Cambodia’s failed effort to beat Singapore on June 12 in its bid for the 2018 World Cup was like something out of a scene in Lord of the Rings. Not what was happening on the field, though. The madness was at the ticket gates just outside the Olympic Stadium. Hundreds of people without tickets stormed the fences and ran up the steep hill. Bored cops were out in full force but didn’t bother stopping any of the fans. In many ways, it was exactly like chaotic traffic on Phnom Penh’s roads.

Elsewhere, massive –and sometimes frightening – crowds tried to make their way through to watch the game. The whole place was pandemonium with something like 50,000 people in attendance (that’s the stadium’s stated maximum capacity, but it looked to be way more people than that). Despite Cambodia being beaten badly by a score of 0-4, fans seemed to be enjoying the effort. The ticket prices probably helped, as they started at just $1.25 assuming you didn’t charge the gate for free.

Even ahalf-timeme, with the score 0-3, fans stuck around and were eagerly cheering on the contest where kids had to try to make a goal from midfield. Foreshadowing the rest of the night, nobody in Cambodia scored. Fans started filtering out when Singapore scored its fourth and final goal, but the atmosphere was still pretty good. There’s something refreshing about fans cheering on a doomed effort. Coming from New York, I’m used to seeing hometown teams booed.

Cambodia’s national soccer team hasn’t had much success on a national stage, and partly due to the country’s troubled history, they didn’t even attempt to qualify for the World Cup until 1998. Little money is invested in national sports programs and some locals I talked to partly blame corruption for the lack of funding.

Cambodia’s World Cup hopes, however improbable, aren’t dashed yet after scoring a win and a draw against Macau earlier in the qualification stage. Cambodia, ranked 178th in the world, has games against Afghanistan (151st) and Syria (121st). They also have a massive undertaking against Japan (52nd).

Whatever happens, I’m sure the fans will be following with pride. Go Cambodia!





I'm an American freelance writer who spent a couple years living in Cambodia. Now I'm on the move again and traveling all over the place. I'm willing to try any bizarre liquor that's presented to me. Any recommendations?