Prime Minister Hun Sen offered praise to former general manger of the national football team Keisuke Honda, who has taken on the challenge of steering the U22 side through the upcoming SEA games. He focused on the team culture the former Japanese star built, which holds that the team ranks above the individual, regardless of the fame of any one player.

The prime minister, who was both a volleyball and football player in the past, considers a structured team performance the most important element of both sports, but especially football, where a coherent attack and defence are equally as important. He noted his pleasure that Honda used this as the basis for his leadership of the national side, which he took over in 2018.

“If we examine Honda’s leadership style, we can see how much he values a team-based culture. If any player begins to think they are bigger than the team or tries to score on their own, they are dropped from the squad. There is no room for egotistical individualists in any team that needs to work together, and like me, Honda does not tolerate them,” he said.

Hun Sen made his comments while presiding over a graduation ceremony for the students of the National Technical Training Institute on February 27, the same day the Cambodia U22 national team departed for their Thailand training camp.

The squad will train there under the direct supervision of Honda, who has led the Cambodians through two SEA Games campaigns. This year’s will be historic, as the 32nd SEA Games 2023 will be the first time the Kingdom’s athletes have competed on their home soil.

The games employ the same selection criteria as the Olympic Games, so as to avoid conflict with FIFA professional tournaments. With the exception of three individuals, the side must be composed of U22 age-grade players.

The players called-up for the training camp are goalkeepers Koy Salim, Reth Lyheng and Virak Dara, and defenders Sophal Diman, Soeuth Nava, Tang Bun Chhay, Chhum Sokhay, Vang Davin, Keut Pich , Chea Sokmeng, Phat Sokha, Im Vakhim, Ri Leap Pheng, Ny Sokry, Chan Sarapich, Leng Nora and Sar Ratana. The midfielders selected are Nhean Sosidan, Tep Phillip, Josinti, Min Ratanak, Sin Sovanmakara and Lim Arun Raymin. Strikers Sieng Chanthea, Lim Pisoth, Hav Soknet, Kirina, An Pisey, Voeun Va and Sar Ty will also vie for starting spots.

Honda, who represented Japan at three Football World Cups, was first appointed general manager in August 2018, and has never claimed a salary.

He led Cambodia to their first ever semi-finals appearance in 2019 in the Philippines. The Kingdom finished second in Group A after a close draw to the hosts and three wins, but was unable to overcome Vietnam in their semi, going down 4-0. They were unlucky to miss out on bronze after a hard-fought 2-2 draw became a 5-4 loss to Myanmar on penalties.

Unfortunately, at the most recent games, held in Vietnam last May, the Cambodians were dumped out of the group stage. They started strongly with a 4-1 defeat of Laos, but lost 1-0 and 5-0 to Singapore and Thailand. The salvaged some pride with a 2-2 draw with Malaysia, but ultimately finished fourth in their group.

At their first games on home soil, the football federation has declared its goal of medaling, while the team of spoken of their dream of playing a home final in the Kingdom. Matches begin in late April, ahead of the rest of the SEA Games’ events.