The David Beckham of Cambodian football, Sun Sopanha, who scored with two free-kick goals in today's semi-finalSun Sopanha demonstrated his prowess from dead-ball situations to guide Phnom Penh Crown into next weekend's Metfone C-League play-off final. Their hard-fought 4-2 win over Naga was a great advert for the C-League in front of a big crowd at Olympic Stadium this afternoon. The game had a bit of everything thrown into the mix. Crown led 3-nil at the half-time interval and should've killed Naga off, but they "lost concentration after half-time" in the words of their manager Makara Be, and nearly paid a heavy price. Naga pulled back two goals and struck the woodwork but couldn't find the all-important leveller. Crown wrapped up the victory three minutes from the end although there was still time for Naga skipper Sun Sovanrithy to see the red mist and a resultant red card. Both casino-backed teams lined up at full strength, with Sok Pheng getting the nod up front for Crown instead of Nigerian Olisa Onyemerea, and it was Crown who got their noses in front on 20 minutes. Srey Veasna's high and hopeful ball into the area rebounded off the cross-bar and straight onto the head of Uche Prince Justine, who nodded it in from six yards with keeper Mak Theara floundering. Three minutes later and Sun Sopanha fired a free-kick as straight as an arrow past Theara from the edge of the box after Justine had been fouled. 5 minutes before the break and Justine turned provider with a neat pass to Sok Pheng who cleverly slipped his shot under the advancing Theara and Crown were three goals to the good at the interval.
A change of positions for Naga skipper Sun Sovanrithy into midfield gave his team a new sense of urgency and it worked immediately. Four minutes into the 2nd half and Meas Channa's quick corner kick caught Crown flat-footed and Joseph Oyewole headed in umarked. 5 minutes later and Sovanrithy despatched a penalty past Peng Bunchhay to narrow the gap still further. Thul Sothearith was adjudged to have pushed Teab Vathanak even though referee Sreng Haody was 30 yards away, but Vathanak has a knack of getting these decisions. Two deep Meas Channa crosses had Bunchhay scrambling , pushing one over the top but missing the second one completely, and breathing a sigh of relief when it hit the upright and was cleared to safety. At the other end Prince Justine went on a dazzling 60 yard run but his low drive was saved by Mak Theara and he picked up a booking soon after as he got further frustrated. His was one of 9 bookings in the game. Sun Sopanha finally finished off Naga's bluster when he curled in a 25 yard free-kick that went in off the post, three minutes from time to confirm his man of the match award. Just as the board with 5 minutes added on time was held up, Sovanrithy was booked twice in under a minute, for fouls on Tieng Tiny and Friday Nwakuna and was sent for an early bath. To be honest I was amazed the referee had waited that long to caution him as he'd kicked Crown players all game long without being warned. The healthy crowd of 8,000 (don't ever believe the attendance figures) had witnessed an exciting semi-final and the expert pundit that I am, got both finalists right in my pre-match predictions. Oh by the way, the new South Korean coach of the national team has still not arrived in Cambodia. Let's hope he can make it before next Saturday's championship-deciding play-off between Preah Khan and PPCrown. It's the least we can expect from the new man in charge of the nation's football future.
Phnom Penh Crown, the pundits choice to win the title. LtoR; (back row) Saidu, Veasna, Pheng, Tiny, Nwakuna, Justine, (front) Dara, Sokngorn, Bunchhay, Sopanha, Sothearith.
Naga finished on top of the league table in the regular season but lost out 4-2 to Crown in today's semi-final
A slice of one-upmanship by Naga's Sun Sovanrithy, presenting Crown skipper Thul Sothearith with a Naga pennant before kick-off
Phnom Penh Crown were this disorganized at the beginning of the 2nd half, when they conceded 2 goals