Monday, February 28, 2011
This Hun Sen Cup quarter-final was all Naga early doors and Kop Isa opened the scoring on 34 minutes with a neat finish from Teab Vathanak's cute pass. The Police team, who will be new boys in the C-League this coming season, came close near the break but Naga kept the lead until 57 minutes when Sophal Udom's shot got a wicked deflection off a prostrate Om Thavrak and looped over the flailing arms of Mak Theara in goal for 1-1. Sun Sovannrithy got on the pitch before the leveller for his first game in months and gave the Naga attack some fresh impetus, twice going close to restoring their lead. Full-time came with the scores still level though most of the players must've been tired through all the play-acting and rolling around the floor they'd put us through in the 90 minutes. The two teams of stretcher-bearers must've been knackered. Just two minutes into extra-time, Teab Vathanak ducked low to head Meas Channa's near post cross past keeper Chanraksmey before referee Kivatanak took a hand in proceedings to issue two red cards to leave Police without a hope. That was compounded when Vathanak broke away in time added on and fed Chhim Sambo, who rounded the keeper and rolled his shot in to make it 3-1. A final flourish from the Police saw Ieng Tine lash in a drive after Long Nasy had struck the post for a consolation, only for Kivatanak to blow for full-time before the game could restart. Naga's prize for the victory is to meet Preah Khan Reach in next weekend's semi-final.
PKR applied the pressure as the 2nd half began and on 57 minutes Tum Saray robbed a defender and slid the ball under the onrushing Yok Ary for their second goal. Prek Pra committed suicide by pushing too high up the pitch leaving way too much space between their last defender and the keeper, and Preah Khan exploited their defensive game plan. With 73 minutes on the clock, Saray fed Phanny Y Ratha and he lobbed his shot over Ary to put PKR firmly in the driving seat. Two more goals from Khuon Laboravy in injury time sealed the result at 5-1 in Preah Khan's favour and put him on 19 goals for the tournament, way ahead of anyone else. Suon Veasna sent Laboravy clear and he finished with the confidence of a man in form for his 2nd goal and then rounded off his hat-trick with a gorgeous half-volley after Chea Samnang's effort rebounded to him off the cross-bar. At the moment, the national team striker can do no wrong. PKR would meet the winners of the Naga v National Police game in next week's semi-final.
Referee Thong Chankethya was a busy man in the middle, as he usually is. He booked nine players, flashed one red card and made some crucial decisions that impacted on the cup tie, as he usually does. One of those came on 19 minutes when he adjudged Phoung Narong's ankle-tap on Heng Sokly as deliberate and Nuth Sinoun stepped up to score from the resultant penalty kick to level the scores. Crown got their noses in front again on 31 minutes when Tieng Tiny's challenge on Rim Bunhieng saw the ball spin out to Sok Pheng and he aimed a left-foot drive into the gaping net. Just two minutes later, BBU netted their second leveller when Chan Veasna's corner to the near post caught the knee of Prum Puthsethy and spun over the head of a bewildered Peng Bunchhay to rest in the Crown net. Chankethya ended the half with two more bookings, taking his first-half tally to half a dozen.
The second half of the game was devoid of action in comparison to the first. One of two major talking points came on 55 minutes when Chan Chaya went down theatrically under a challenge from In Virak in the BBU penalty area. Referee Chankethya rushed to the spot only to brandish a yellow card at Chaya, despite the protestations of his teammates. As extra-time loomed, BBU stopper Hem Simay raced out of his area, clattered into Suong Virak and left the referee with no option but to flash a red card. At least he got that one right. In extra-time, the BBU coach called his players to the touchline as one of the four floodlight pylons failed and a corner of the pitch was in semi-darkness, but order was restored after a discussion amongst the match officials, and play resumed. Kouch Sokumpheak had two chances to put Crown ahead in extra-time but was foiled by substitute keeper Sos Proshim for the first, and then powered a shot an inch past the upright two minutes from the end.
With 120 minutes failing to produce a decisive winning goal, the tie went down to penalty kicks. Here's how the drama unfolded. Tieng Tiny stepped up and arrowed his spot-kick into the bottom left-hand corner (1-0). Peng Bunchhay then saved Chan Veasna's penalty at the foot of the post but referee Chankethya made another of his game changing decisions and ordered the kick to be retaken. Veasna scored (1-1). Kouch Sokumpheak kept his cool and guided his kick into the same corner as Tiny (2-1). BBU sub Ung Marady went for power and whacked his shot in off the underside of the bar (2-2). Crown's San Narith maintained his composure and also found the corner of the net (3-2). BBU drew level again when Nhim Sovannara rifled his drive into the roof of the net (3-3). Another substitute, Suong Virak calmly stroked his spot-kick into the right-hand corner (4-3). Former Crown striker Heng Sokly then watched in despair as Bunchhay dived full length to thwart his kick (4-3). Sun Sopanha had the chance to win it for Crown but his drilled shot went straight at Proshim (4-3). Oum Chandara drew the scores level again with a well-placed drive into the corner (4-4) and the penalty drama went into sudden death. Chan Chaya needed to score to keep Crown's hopes alive but he too aimed his kick down the middle and Proshim saved easily against his former teammate (4-4). It was left to BBU skipper Chhun Sothearath to send Bunchhay the wrong way and net the winning spot-kick for his team (4-5), sparking jubilant celebrations amongst the BBU players and coaching staff that were only cut short when the stadium floodlights were switched off.
Crown line-up: Bunchhay, Dara, Narith, Sothearith (Vanthan 100), Tiny, Narong, Sopanha, Chaya, Ratana (Rathanak 77), Pheng (Virak 57), Sokumpheak. Subs not used: Visokra, Sovan, Sophat, Bunna.
Goals: Narong (12), Pheng (31). Penalties scored: Tiny, Sokumpheak, Narith, Virak.
I caught up with Crown head coach Bojan Hodak after the game and he had this to say. "I thought we started the game well. BBU can play good football but we didn't allow them to play at all. We scored both of our goals from set pieces which we have been practicing, but a lack of concentration allowed BBU back into the game on two occasions. We scored and then mentally we relaxed, and this is something we will learn from. We restricted them to two opportunities, one was the penalty from a counter-attack and the other from a corner. We were nervous in the final third and our final pass was missing from much of the game.
The 2nd half was an ugly affair, with both teams failing to find any rhythm in the final third of the pitch. We had more possession and then in extra-time, we dominated with the extra man, we had the ball all the time but a lack of movement and a poor final pass meant the game went to penalties. And with penalties, it can go either way; its down to mental strength and character. We certainly didn't perform to our best but overall we were the better team, we dominated the game, so its disappointing to go out of the cup. I don't see that it's so critical, we've made lots of changes for the new season, we still lack a little strength in depth which we will address and half of our team were affected by the national team trip to Macau, though we wish BBU well in the next round, they work hard, defend well and held on to win it at the death."
In the 2nd game of the day, the Army (which is preferable to the rather long-winded Ministry of National Defense) were too strong for Kirivong, who really missed their top scorer In Vichheka, out through suspension. Keo Vannak scored two identical headers, both from Pheak Rady crosses, Plong Chanthou and Chhin Chhoeurn netting the other goals as Army strolled through a pretty dull encounter to win 4-1. Kirivong's Chhaing Sophal weaved his way through to level the scores in the 1st half though I'm sure he played last season under his Vietnamese name of Tran Cong Danh. Not sure how that works as the Hun Sen Cup is for Cambodian players only. Though we had fun and games yesterday when BBU wanted to play Srey Vesana, even though he is on the books of a Thai team this season. Presumably he was on holiday in Phnom Penh and fancied a game. If Cambodia is expected to be taken seriously amongst the football fraternity, they really need to sort themselves out and do things by the book, the international one that is, not their own in-house version. More from both games in a future post.
Saturday, February 26, 2011
Thursday, February 24, 2011
In the meantime, let's take a quick look at the future of football in Cambodia, which lies in the youth. The next level down from the senior team are the Under-23s, who enter the SEA Games every two years and who will be looking to fare better in Indonesia this December, than they did in Laos in 2009. So it's perhaps a mite disappointing that Cambodia haven't entered an Under-23 team in the AFF U-23 Championship that will be held in Indonesia in July, a tournament which will include the likes of the host country, Singapore, Philippines, Myanmar and Timor Leste. Admittedly, it would've meant taking eligible players away from the C-League competition but there is always a price to pay for giving players the right level of exposure at international level. That also applies at Under-19 level too. Myanmar will host the AFF U-19 Championship in September this year and Cambodia will be noticeable by their absence, as they were in the AFC U-19 Championships last year. The usual suspects will be there including Thailand, Vietnam and Laos. On a positive note, the country's Under-16s will be donning the red jerseys in Laos for the AFF U-16 Championships between 7-17 July in a group alongside Myanmar, Vietnam, Singapore and Philippines. No easy ride for our youngsters.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
If last season's form is anything to go by, then the tie of the quarter-finals is Crown against BBU. Both teams have made improvements to their squad in the off season with Kouch Sokumpheak spearheading the Crown attack, a winner of the Hun Sen Cup whilst with Khemara as well as collecting two Golden Boot awards as the competition's top scorer. He certainly has the pedigree to handle the big occasion, as do his experienced teammates. With Khim Borey having moved onto play in the Thai Premier League without kicking a ball in anger for Crown, Sokumpheak's likely partner is his national team colleague Sok Pheng. One face missing from the squad through injury will be the experienced campaigner Chea Virath, though its likely that Army recruit Suong Virak will get the all-clear to make his first appearance in a Crown jersey.
Crown coach Bojan Hodak is quietly confident. "We'll approach this like every other match, we take this competition very seriously and we will go out to win. BBU are one of the best teams in the cup, they finished 2nd in the league last season, so they must have good players but I'm confident that if we play up to our level, that we can win." Crown recently met BBU in a pre-season friendly with Hodak brushing aside the result; "We beat them 3-1 in a friendly but that doesn't count. I know they have good players in Bunheang, Sothearath, Puthsethy and Sinoun. However, I have confidence in my players and if we perform to our standard, we can beat anyone. We can't take anything for granted though as the cup is a tough competition because you don't have a right to an off-day or to be unlucky, or else you can get knocked out."
BBU, who led the Metfone C-League for large chunks of last season before falling to Preah Khan in the play-off semi-final, eventually claimed 3rd spot with a penalty-kick victory over Naga Corp. In the Summer they added striker Heng Sokly to their ranks, once the striker left Crown at the end of last season after netting six times. Their youthful exuberance served them well last season and they will be looking to strike an early blow against the cup favourites on Saturday.
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Friday, February 18, 2011
Thursday, February 17, 2011
From the Bench with Bojan Hodak
I came to Phnom Penh Crown as I could see that the club’s owner and management are young and ambitious. When you have ambition at the top, it makes the job of a coach that little bit easier, though of course it’s only hard work that will bring success. I was interested in a job in Europe but when I came here, I was impressed with what I saw and heard and happy to join the club. As a bonus, they will allow me to continue my UEFA Pro Licence by returning to Croatia, and this I really appreciate. Having lived in Singapore and Malaysia as a player and coach, football and living styles are very similar across Southeast Asia and this experience helps a lot in adjusting. Coaches, and players, without that experience often fail because they don’t adjust. That’s not a problem for me.
Phnom Penh Crown are building a reputation as the best club side in Cambodia, so our target in every match and every competition must be to win. This winning mentality is what I must build into my player’s minds as with every win they become better players mentally and with every trophy they collect, they will earn more respect. I want us to win every match we play in, but I also want us to play a style of football that is nice to watch and is attractive to the supporters. When we played in Thailand recently, one of their officials told me that it was the first time he’d seen a Cambodian team play good football. That made me and the team feel good. We want more of those feelings. I will prepare the team technically, tactically, mentally and physically, I will ask them to play a style that sees us passing and keeping possession, because it’s a simple game really, if you have the ball your opponent cannot score. We need the whole team to stay compact, keep their shape for 90 minutes and remain disciplined. But I don’t want automatons, I want them to show their personal style, their own flair and skills within that team pattern.
There is plenty of room for improvement with our squad of players. To be honest, our boys are not developed technically, tactically and physically compared to other Asian countries. But they have a great attitude, they are willing to work hard at their game to improve and this will make our task easier. Two areas that we need to improve substantially, is in our creativity and finishing. I will work individually with the players as one-to-one coaching makes a big difference, and we will work extra hard on our finishing and giving the players ideas on how to express their creativeness on the pitch.
I think it’s a great move forwards that Phnom Penh Crown are beginning their own youth program because this will produce players for the senior squad in the future. Across the world, clubs recognise that the best way to develop players within your own club is to have a successful youth program. But this means that the boys need to play regular matches and tournaments. This is where the football federations take the lead, with government support where possible. To produce a player for the senior team you need 8-10 years, but even with proper coaching you will see a difference in maybe three years. That makes coaching education programs another vital component and for me, I would always encourage former players to go into coaching, as I did, as their playing experience will be invaluable. A positive to take from the current situation is that a fully integrated youth program in Cambodia doesn’t exist so we can plan properly from the beginning, though they will need to find sponsors and the right people to do it. Take Japan as a perfect example. In the 1990s they invested a lot of money and brought in experts from all over the globe to raise their standards and now they are a world power in football. I know Cambodia cannot compete financially yet but there is good practise to learn from and implement here.
As we improve, with every good result we will gain more respect and more supporters, many of whom will be young boys that will harbour a dream to play for a successful club like ours. I want as many young boys as possible to want to play for this club. I want us to be successful both inside and outside Cambodia and our team will be striving for that every time they pull on the jersey of Phnom Penh Crown. You have my word.
Croatian-born head coach Bojan Hodak turned to coaching after a successful playing career, as a no-nonsense central defender in his homeland, playing for six years in the Croatian 1st and 2nd Divisions with NK Trnje, NK Vrapce, NK Hrvatski Dragovaljac and NK Ponikve. He headed to Asia in 1997, playing for a further five years in the top divisions in Singapore and Hong Kong at Balestier Central, Jurong FC and Hong Kong Rangers. He earned his UEFA A License badge in 2004 and came to prominence when he partnered ESPN's Shebby Singh on the Malaysian reality television show, My Team, which saw them coach a squad of amateur players to take on the Malaysian national team. Their success earned them entry, as UPB-My Team, into the Malaysian Premier League, they gained promotion in their first season and then spent two more years in the Super League before financial problems saw them drop out. He’s worked for the Asian Football Confederation as an analyst for the last three years, turning to television and radio punditry for the Malaysian media before accepting the challenge at Phnom Penh Crown in November 2010.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Lee Tae-Hoon caused a ripple of surprise when he chose Touch Pancharong and Chan Rithy ahead of the experienced heads of San Narith and Sam El Nasa to start the 2nd leg in Macau, in front of a paltry 100 spectators and a very cool evening. Khim Borey had been restored to the starting line-up in favour of Prak Mony Udom and rewarded his coach with the opening goal from close range in time added on after 47 minutes. As they did in Phnom Penh, Macau refused to lie down and came back strongly after the break. Vernon Wong netted just after the hour, before two goals in as many minutes threw the tie wide open again. Both goals were scored by substitutes, Ka Hang Leong on 73 minutes and Vinicio Alves two minutes later after an awful backpass. The teams were all square and neither side could break the deadlock before the Sri Lankan referee, Perera, who flashed 7 yellow cards in the game, blew for full-time. With all substitutions already made, it was left to the men on the pitch and it was the most experienced of campaigners, El Nasa, that came up trumps for Cambodia with his 107th minute headed winner from San Narith's cross. Coach Lee will have breathed the biggest sigh of relief possible, squeezing through on aggregate despite losing to Macau for the first time, 3-2.
Cambodia line-up: Mic, Raksmey (Narith 38), Pancharong, Tiny, Piseth, Sopanha (Sokngorn 72), Sothearath, C Rithy, Borey (El Nasa 61), Sokumpheak, Laboravy. Subs not used: Bunchhay, T Udom, Soun Veasna, PM Udom, Pheng, Soksana. Bookings: Tiny, Borey, Sokngorn, Narith.
In Conversation with.... Kouch Sokumpheak and Tieng Tiny
Kouch Sokumpheak is widely touted as Cambodia’s most talented footballer of his generation, whilst Tieng Tiny is rated as the best homegrown defender in the country, and both players play for Phnom Penh Crown. We caught up with the duo during a break from training with the national team to find out a little more about them.
For the record, Sokumpheak, now 23 years old, is one of five siblings and was born in Porbakor village in the heart of Kompong Thom town. He’s played football for as long as he can remember, coming to prominence for the Kompong Thom provincial team whilst still at Hun Sen Balaing High School. Spotted by Khemara Keila manager/coach Lah Salakhan during a match played in Kratie, he made the journey down to Phnom Penh and earned a place in the Khemara line-up immediately. His Crown and international teammate Tieng Tiny is a year older and hails from Boeung Daun Pa village in Siem Reap. One of six children, he was snapped up by his provincial team when he was just fifteen and attending 10 Makara High School. He too was a target of Lah Salakhan’s scouting network and was invited to join Khemara.
2006 was a memorable milestone year for both players. They were part of the Khemara side that captured the Championship Trophy, beating Phnom Penh United 5-4 in the play-off final. They also earned a call-up into Cambodia’s AFC Challenge Cup national team squad and made their first appearances against Bangladesh in Dhaka in April of that year. The following year, the two players parted company, with Sokumpheak remaining at Khemara, as he would until he signed on for Crown a few months ago. Meanwhile, Tiny joined up with Phnom Penh Empire for a year and then a less than successful season with Naga Corp before moving to Phnom Penh Crown in 2009. Both players remained integral members of the Cambodian national team, as they are today.
Sokumpheak, with a league title and a Hun Sen Cup Final success in his locker, was the epitome of loyalty as he remained with Khemara, despite the club’s waning fortunes. “I have great respect and gratitude towards Lah Salakhan, as well as enjoying the camaraderie we had at Khemara,” he said. It kept him there until he was finally persuaded to leave in November 2010, joining Crown ahead of the current new season. Tiny was already with Crown, as they captured the Metfone C-League Championship and just failed to land the Hun Sen Cup last term.
Both players will have important roles for Crown this season. Tiny’s main task will be to marshall the defence, whilst Sokumpheak will be expected to get amongst the goals, as he did for Khemara in the last two editions of the Hun Sen Cup, claiming the Golden Boot award twice in succession, with 21 and 18 goals respectively. The striker was full of praise for his new coach at Crown, Bojan Hodak. “Bojan is very good, he understands the game and he encourages us all of the time.” Tiny agreed. “I like his knowledge and methods of defence, and he’s teaching me new tricks as a defender. We are also physically stronger than before,” he explained. Sokumpheak added; “Crown are much more professional than other clubs. Their coaching methods, food, training equipment, facilities and higher wages, all make a real difference to the players.”
We’ve already heard that Lah Salakhan assumed the role of mentor for Sokumpheak whilst he was at Khemara, though the striker also counts Scott O’Donell as one of his best influences, during his spell in charge of the national team. “Scott gave us great advice, trained us hard and helped us adopt a much more professional attitude.” Tiny echoed his colleague’s views and found that O’Donell, a central defender himself, helped his game by sharing his own experiences. Both players have also been impressed with the current Cambodian coach, South Korean, Lee Tae-Hoon.
It was clear the two players regard each other as good friends as well as teammates. They replied in unison to tell me that playing abroad was not on their list of priorities, as being away from family and friends wasn’t something they were keen on, whilst stepping into a coaching role, once their playing days are over, is definitely something they will consider. When asked about representing Cambodia in international football, Tiny remarked; “I’m proud to play for my country, it makes me happy, I get to visit many other countries, I get exposure to new things, my experience improves and I become a better player.” Sokumpheak concurred; “I am very proud to wear my country’s jersey and to show our flag abroad. It makes me very happy. Football is a good job and a good career and playing for Cambodia is something I enjoy immensely.”
The future of Cambodian football was the final topic of discussion. Tiny remarked; “I think former players should train the next generation as they know the game and can pass on their knowledge and experiences. Foreign coaches help a lot too, with good explanations, good ideas on training and food, methods of playing and treatment of injuries.” For Sokumpheak, he believes the football federation can play a more significant role in youth development. “I’m a believer that the federation should support the accommodation, study, food and training of the younger players, so they can focus clearly on their football and not be distracted. I also feel that clubs should assist players to find jobs after their football careers are finished, so they can concentrate 100% on football whilst they are playing.” Both Sokumpheak and Tiny are a long way from the end of their careers as they embark on their first season playing alongside each other at Phnom Penh Crown. It promises to be an exciting year ahead for both.
Monday, February 14, 2011
Success for Cambodia will pitch them into Group C of the AFC Challenge Cup alongwith three other teams. Matches will be played between 21-30 March, though the host country has yet to be announced. A look at the FIFA/Coca-Cola world rankings shows that the top team in the group will be the Republic of Tajikistan, rated at 141 in the world. Half of their national team comes from the Tajik League champions Istiqlol Dushanbe, who strolled to the league title in December, completing their domestic season with 26 wins, six draws and no defeats. The same theme applied to the Indian Ocean-based Maldives champions VB Sports, who were undefeated in 21 games to win the Dhiraagu Dhivehi League crown and who will populate the Maldives national team, who are ranked at 160 in the FIFA table. They lie six places above Cambodia, who are at 166. The weakest of the Group C countries on paper will be Kyrgyzstan, at 175, for whom Neftchi Kochkorata are the league champions. Macau stand at 193 in the rankings.
Friday, February 11, 2011
Thursday, February 10, 2011
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Within 14 minutes of the 2nd half, the complexion of the game had changed dramatically, with Cambodia ahead 3-nil and Macau finally succumbing to the relentless Cambodian pressure. It began within three minutes of the restart when Sam El Nasa jumped with defender Pak Lao and appeared to get the final touch to Sun Sopanha's dangerous corner for the 1st goal. The relief so quickly after the break was there for all to see. Five minutes later, El Nasa had netted a 2nd goal and Cambodia were cruising. Chhun Sothearath and Kouch Sokumpheak combined to send the latter racing to the bye-line and his perfect cross onto the head of El Nasa was easy pickings for the veteran. A minute before the hour mark, Khuon Laboravy made up for a poor missed chance moments before, by racing onto a defence-splitting Sun Sopanha pass and firing past the keeper from 12 yards out. Cambodia had the cushion they'd been seeking all game and the frustration was effectively over. A rash of substitutes did nothing for the game as a spectacle but Macau posted notice when sub Ka Hang Leong weaved his way past three ineffectual tackles and stung Mic's fingers, before the same player got a steal on his marker to a Wai Tong Ho free-kick and headed the ball firmly past Ouk Mic and inside the post, eleven minutes from time. It was a poor goal to concede and one which the South Korean coach won't be happy with. In time added on, and with fresh legs in the line up, Sokngorn gave Sokumpheak room to drill the ball against the cross-bar from 15 yards out, which brought the game to a close and a 3-1 victory for Cambodia to take to the second leg, and favourites to progress to the group stage of the Challenge Cup competition. It was an easy win for the home country, who'll be cheesed that they didn't inflict a heavier defeat on the visitors, especially as Macau didn't really kick-off their interest in the game until they were 3-nil down and their only bright spark was Ka Hang Leong's direct play in the final twenty minute.
Cambodia's line-up: Mic, Raksmey, Narith, Tiny, Piseth, Sothearath, Sopanha, Laboravy (C Rithy 69), PM Udom (Sokngorn 61), El Nasa (Srey Veasna 77), Sokumpheak. Subs not used: Bunchhay, Pancharong, T Udom, Pheng. Bookings: Raksmey (52, trip).