Sunday, March 7, 2010

Cup Final fever

The Army win the Hun Sen Cup for the 1st time beating Phnom Penh Crown 3-2
No-one can deny that the football served up by the Hun Sen Cup competition this season didn't produce excitement, entertainment, suspense and goals galore, as well as yellow and red cards sprinkled around like confetti. And today's cup final was no exception. It has been a great precursor to the league season which should kick off in a couple of weeks time and for the Ministry of National Defense - the team that has no foreign imports in their squad, who were unable to play in the cup competition - to win gives some credence that they are the best Khmer team in the country, especially beating the moneybags of Phnom Penh Crown.
Before the game, which kicked off in temperatures around 38 degrees, we were treated to live singers, a big crowd turned up (over 16,000), many of whom were in khaki Army fatigues to counteract the massed ranks of Crown supporters in red, the guest of honour was the city's governor and the stage was set for a cup final to remember. We weren't disappointed with the suspense maintained until the final kick of the match when MND netted an injury-time winner to claim the cup for the first time. With three added minutes on the clock, they were awarded a free-kick which Ieng Piseth swung high into the Crown penalty area and where Thong Oudom outjumped everyone else to loop his header into the net, immediately being pulled to the ground and mobbed by his teammates. There was just enough time for Crown to restart the game before referee Tuy Vicheka blew to spark celebrations worthy of any cup final success.

MND started positively from the kick-off in searing heat against a weakened Crown line-up, shorn of four regulars through suspension. On 25 minutes they got their noses in front after dogged wing-play from Phuong Soksana. He bustled his way past three defenders and his low centre was rifled into the roof of the net by Sin Dalin to send one half of the audience into raptures. I watched for some reaction from the ranks of the Army regulars but they sat there, rather stoically, simply clapping their colleague's success. Crown finally awoke from their lethargy late in the half with a rather fortunate equaliser. Thong Oudom's headed clearance struck Chan Chhaya and his quick reaction shot was deflected into the path of Heng Sokly, who couldn't miss the target from five yards out.

The second half mirrored the first with MND making all the early running and twenty minutes in, they recaptured their lead through substitute Chhin Chhoeurn. On the pitch for five minutes after replacing the injured Nov Soseila, he stole in at the far post to add the finishing touch as everyone else failed to react to a 40-yard free-kick from Khek Khemarin that sailed into the Crown penalty box. With players finding the heat unbearable, both sides used up their allotment of substitutions and it looked as though MND would hold out for their first-ever cup success. That was until with just a minute remaining, their goalkeeper Samreth Seiha miscued a routine clearance straight to Chan Rithy who rolled the ball into the unguarded net from 25 yards out. Seiha was inconsolable - even after the final whistle when he found it hard to celebrate with his teammates - though with just seconds remaining, Thong Oudom loped upfield and settled the cup final result with his winning header to cue jubilant celebrations.

MND collected their medals from Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema as well as a cheque for 80 million riel, with Phnom Penh Crown picking up half that amount and 3rd place Preah Khan Reach taking home 20 million riel and the Fair Play Award of 5 million. Collecting individual awards of 1 million riel apiece were the competition's joint top scorers with 18 goals, Kuoch Sokumpheak of Khemara Keila and Srey Veasna of Phnom Penh, with Crown's Peng Bunchhay picking up the best goalkeeper accolade.
The Phnom Penh Crown line-up before the cup final begins

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