Svay Rieng: Coach Conor Nestor insisted that Svay Rieng's qualification for the 2020 AFC Cup on Wednesday will have a big impact, not only for the Cambodian champions but the country as a whole.
Svay Rieng's 3-0 win away at Laotian side Master7 FC completed a comprehensive 7-1 aggregate victory that concluded this week's ASEAN Zone play-offs and ensured Cambodia are represented for a fourth consecutive edition of the AFC Cup.
A result that is of particular significance for the Irishman at the helm of the club.
See also :
Play-off - 2nd Leg: Master7 FC 0-3 Preah Khan Reach Svay Rieng FC
Play-off - 2nd Leg: Yangon United FC 3-1 Indera SC
Play-off - 2nd Leg: PSM Makassar 3-1 Lalenok United FC
"Being part of the AFC Cup is vital to the growth of the game here," said Nestor, a former FAI Development Officer and U-19 coach in his native Limerick.
"Competing against the best teams in Asia opens the country up to new methods and gives us more opportunity to learn and grow.
"In 1988 and 1990 the Irish economy was in depression but our football team were performing and winning on the world stage. This is widely seen as a catalyst to a lifting of the national spirit.
"In the 1990s Ireland went on to be one of the most successful small countries in the world.
"Football has that kind of power and in Cambodia I see people hoping for a similar inspiration. First and foremost, the game is in the hearts and minds of the people. When the national team play you can get 50,000 people there.
"There are many talented players here both foreign and local and I get a sense that something big is just around the corner for the place as a footballing nation."
Nestor will have his chance to show just how much talent is on offer when his side kick off their 2020 AFC Cup campaign in Group G on February 11, although it is a baptism of fire with their first fixture away at heavyweights Ceres Negros of the Philippines.
"Ceres away is first and it doesn’t get much tougher! But our players will relish the challenge," declared Nestor.
"Our group is certainly much tougher than the opponents NagaWorld or Boueng Ket would have faced in recent years.
"Six points is the highest Cambodian points total and before the draw was made our target would have been to beat that. Now with the strength of our group the best thing to do is take it a game at a time."
Along with Ceres, Nestor and his side will face Indonesian champions Bali United and Vietnam's Than Quang Ninh in what is a daunting test for the debutants.
Nevertheless, Nestor is in philosophical mood when it comes to the club's goals for the tournament and what is to come in the future for Svay Rieng.
"Short term is simple we want to compete well against Ceres, we want to give them a proper challenge," he said.
"In the medium term we want to be seen as the team to beat every year in Cambodia. Long term we are already making improvements to our stadium and our academy.
"Hosting AFC Cup games at home in Svay Rieng to a full stadium and having a team full of academy graduates on the field – that’s the dream."
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