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For some African soccer players, road to World Cup starts in Cambodia

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Nick Sells/Special to the Christian Science Monitor

(Read caption) An African soccer player waits to play in Phnom Penh.

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Every day, a few hours before sunset, when shadows become longer and the heat less intense, black men in bright red and yellow jerseys gather near the Olympic Stadium to play soccer. The men are from Africa – mostly Nigeria and Ghana – and they have formed their own team in Cambodia’s capital.

The number of soccer players from Africa here has skyrocketed in the past three years, says May Tola, the spokesman for the Football Federation of Cambodia. While the reasons behind the spike are unclear, Mr. Tola says it took place around the time the Football Federation started charging for tickets, and athletes’ salaries were raised from $20 to $30 per month to between $70 and $300 per month.

In the past, most aspiring African soccer players went to Europe. With that market now saturated, players are chasing opportunities across Southeast Asia. “Cambodia is like a steppingstone for African players,” Tola says.

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