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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Named Soccer Coach for Laos National Team

VIENTIANE, Laos - Former Soviet Union international Boris Zhuravlev was named the first foreign coach of the Laos national soccer team, an official newspaper reported Friday.

His appointment is a boost to Laos's chances at the Southeast Asian Games in Malaysia in September and its forthcoming World Cup qualifying campaign, the Vientiane Times newspaper said.

Zhuravlev, 55, a Russian, played on the Soviet side from 1967-1968 and was head coach of Lokomotiv Moscow from 1982-1986.

Soccer is increasingly popular in communist Laos, an impoverished nation of 5 million people, which has in recent years recorded victories over much larger countries such as Malaysia and the Philippines.

But a defeat last year against neighboring Cambodia, the first in the Lao national team's history, was a blow to national pride. It led to the retirement of a number of veteran players and pressure for a foreign coach to be appointed.

"I will improve the teamwork and technique of the Lao players," Zhuravlev told the Vientiane Times. He hoped Laos could become a soccer "powerhouse" in Southeast Asia.

Recent renovation of the National Stadium in the sleepy capital, Vientiane, to meet international standards has allowed Laos to join World Cup preliminary qualifiers for the first time. Its opening match is in Oman on April 30. Its group includes the Philippines and Syria.

The Lao National Football Federation promised to leave team selection entirely to Zhuravlev, who will also work with the national under-17, under-19 and under-23 teams. His one-year $36,000 contract is funded by the Asian Football Confederation, the Vientiane Times reported.