News Cambodian player Vannet Phal dreams of playing for his country in Mexico

Growing up in rural Cambodia, Vannet Phal would kick a football with his friends around a makeshift pitch on wasteland near their homes and dream of one day playing on the world stage.

In a few months, Vannet, now 20, will be living out his fantasy when he represents his country in the Homeless World Cup in Mexico. Vannet joined HFCA in 2016 via our partner Cambodian Children's Fund. Vannet is one of eight players chosen for the Cambodian national squad making the 31,200 km round trip journey to Mexico. More than 500 footballers representing 47 countries will descend on Mexico City in November for the week-long festival of football, in what promises to be one of the most spectacular Homeless World Cup tournaments yet. It will be the first time that Vannet has been on an airplane or traveled outside Cambodia. “I feel proud and happy to be one of the team selected for the World Cup,” says Vannet. “I’m really excited to be going to Mexico. I did not expect that my life could be transformed in such a way that I could be going overseas.”

Life was not easy for Vannet, one of nine children, growing up in Prey Veng province. Money for the large family was tight, surviving on one the income from a food stall, and the idea of one day playing for his country and going abroad must have seemed an impossible pipe dream for the football-obsessed youngster. “I friends and I would play football in the province. I was about 10 or 11 and I was really passionate about football even back then,” says Vannet.

Vannet practicing his shooting skills. Picture Scott Rotzoll

"Playing football has made me stronger and healthier,” says Vannet, posing proudly in the red kit of the Cambodian team for the Homeless World Cup.“My family did not support me playing football in the beginning because they did not think it was important,” he adds.“My passion overcome their thoughts. After they saw my commitment they supported me and when I made the achievement of being picked for the World Cup, they had a lot of pride.”

Vannet, who with his elder brother works to help support his family and four brothers and three sisters, cannot wait to show the rest of the world what he can do with a football and how far he has come. Vannet’s favorite football player is Cristiano Ronaldo, the Juventus, ex Real Madrid and Portugal striker, widely regarded as one of the best players of his generation and all time. Now Vannet can proudly say that he has emulated the star by representing his country at a World Cup too.

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