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‘Special, fast and skilful’: Three Cambodians set to make their mark in Malaysian football

The introduction of the ASEAN quota has opened up opportunities for more players from this region to ply their trade in the upcoming season of the Malaysia Super League (MSL) and Cambodia is no exception.

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Regarded as a developing football nation in Southeast Asia, Cambodia will have three players making their debuts in the MSL in 2018, moves which should help their national team improve in the near future.

Cambodia were once among the best teams in Southeast Asia, with success in some high-profile tournaments.

I first saw Vathanaka play two years ago in an international match and I told myself then that I would like to sign him one day

- Dollah Salleh

They reached the semi-finals of the 1972 Asian Cup in Bangkok and also won the 1972 South Vietnam Independence Cup and the 1973 President’s Cup in South Korea.

But football suffered under the Khmer Rouge before Cambodia emerged again in 1995 by competing in their first international tournament in 20 years at the SEA Games in Thailand.

Although Cambodia have yet to regain their former status, they are slowly making inroads in Southeast Asian football and having some of their stars play abroad can only aid that progress.

Chan Vathanaka, 24, known as the Lionel Messi of Cambodian football, recently joined Pahang for a reported monthly wage of USD15,000 (RM59,000) from Boeung Ket Angkor FC.

Best remembered by Malaysian fans for scoring a brace in Cambodia’s 3-2 defeat to Ong Kim Swee’s national side at the 2016 Suzuki Cup, Vathanaka chose the MSL side over offers from the Thai League and Portugal’s Primeira Liga.

Dollah has high hopes for Vathanaka. Photo: Asiana.my

The 2015 and 2016 Cambodian League top-scorer will be hoping to reignite his career after a frustrating season-long spell at Japan J3 League side Fujieda MYFC where he played only five minutes of football.

Ipoh-based side PKNP FC, who will debut in the MSL, also signed Cambodian attacking midfielder Keo Sokpheng for one season, who is currently recovering from a hamstring injury.

He is a fighter and I am confident once he regains his fitness, he will be an asset to the club

French-born Cambodian midfielder Thierry Chantha Bin also moved to the MSL, joining newly promoted MSL side Terengganu FC I (TFC I) for a season.

Pahang coach Dollah Salleh said Vathanaka showed flashes of brilliance during the club’s recent pre-season tour of Thailand.

“I first saw Vathanaka play two years ago in an international match and I told myself then that I would like to sign him one day,” said Dollah, a former international.

“Vathanaka is special in all aspects. He is technically gifted and uses his speed to good effect. He plays at a different level compared to other forwards in this region.

“At Pahang, he needs to work hard in order to start in matches. He is a superstar in Cambodia, but he will have to start from zero here.

Vathanaka has starred for his country for some time

“However, I believe he will succeed. He is very confident and the good thing is that age is on his side."

Dollah disclosed that Vathanaka joined Pahang in Bangkok slightly unfit.

“It is understandable as it was a difficult 2017 for him. He is a fighter and I am confident once he regains his fitness, he will be an asset to the club.

[NEXT: Don't look down on them, says Dollah]