Crown skipper Thul Sothearith receives the Metfone trophy from FFC President Sao Sokha with his jubilant teammates looking onA scorching sun overhead, suspensions affecting the line-ups, even changes to both teams because of warm-up injuries and fitness test failures, as well as the appearance of the new national team coach for the first time, today's Metfone C-League championship play-off final had it all, even before it kicked-off. Add to that mix, the big crowds brought by both teams, resplendent in their club colours and t-shirts, horns, flags and banners, the expectation of a Phnom Penh Crown win and the determination of the military police side, Preah Khan Reach not to buckle under the pressure, and kick-off was eagerly awaited. Within 7 minutes of the start PKR had the ball in the net and must've had thoughts of an upset. Khuon Laboravy used his head instead of his left foot to get on the end of Suon Thuon's centre and the bounce beat the ineffectual dive of keeper Peng Bunchhay to silence one half of the stadium, whilst the other half erupted. Ten minutes later and Crown levelled when referee Thong Chankethya awarded a pretty dubious penalty for a push on Hong Ratana by Moul Daravorn, and up stepped cool-as-a-cucumber Keo Sokngorn to whip his spot-kick past Ouk Mic. With both teams employing just one solo striker, PKR edged ahead again on 34 minutes. A Thuon free-kick was cleared by Sani Saidu to the edge of the penalty area where Tum Saray, controlled the ball, shimmied and then curled a beauty of a shot over Bunchhay's flailing arms to send Preah Khan's fans into more raptures. A few minutes later Saray was booked for falling over Tieng Tiny's legs in the box, though it looked like a penalty to me and with Bunchhay producing two one-handed saves to deny Devide Njoku and Laboravy, PKR remained ahead at the break.
PKR bolstered their attack with the introduction of Sam El Nasa, a surprise starting omission, just after the break but it was Crown who drew first blood when Srey Veasna fired past Ouk Mic from fifteen yards after Suon Thuon failed to clear a Sun Sopanha cross, just eight minutes into the 2nd half. Olisa Onyemerea, in the starting line-up in place of the suspended Prince Justine, was using his strength to harry the PKR defenders and with 9 minutes left on the clock, his brutish run was halted but the ball fell to Srey Veasna, who whipped another shot goalwards. The upright kept his shot out but the ball fell invitingly at the feet of Hong Makara, who whacked it past Ouk Mic to put Crown in front for the first time. With 2 minutes to go, Veasna sent Makara away on the left and his low cross was food and drink to Keo Sokngorn, who tapped home for his second and Crown's 4th. It was all over bar the shouting. That is until the 4th minute of added-on time when Sam El Nasa nodded in Khuon Laboravy's pinpoint cross, only for referee Chankethya to blow his final whistle moments later. 4-3 to Crown, their players mobbed the coaching staff and vice versa, everyone, including the suspended Prince Justine, who was seen running through the main stand holding a Crown flag aloft, had a smile from ear to ear and the party could begin.
The scoreline reflected the tightness of the match itself. It wasn't a classic but it was touch and go and a draw (and penalties) had looked on the cards until Crown's late burst. They just about deserved it, but only just, which will be little consolation to Preah Khan, who sat on the pitch, dejected whilst the Crown players and staff danced and sang their way towards the medal ceremony. Crown picked up the trophy and a cheque for 54 million riel, while Keo Sokngorn also netted 2 million as the season's best player. The Army's Sou Yaty collected the best goalkeeping award, Preah Khan's Rith Dakar was named top coach, Julius Ononiwu from Kirivong topped the goalscoring charts with 25 goals and BBU earned the Fair Play trophy. That about wrapped it up as Phnom Penh Crown continued to bask in the glory of their championship success.
The Phnom Penh Crown starting line-up for today's C-League play-off final. LtoR (back) Tiny, Saidu, Dara, Veasna, Onyemerea, Nwakuna, (front), Sokngorn, Sopanha, Bunchhay, Ratana, Sothearith.
Preah Khan Reach pose before the final begins. LtoR (back) Njoku, Daravorn, Thuon, Laboravy, Rithy, Mic, (front), Samnang, Veasna, Saray, Narith, PM Udom.
The match officials line up with the two captains, PKR's Ouk Mic (yellow) and Crown's Thul Sothearith (blue)