Phnom Penh Crown have just signed three new players but first things first, that Hun Sen Cup quarter-final defeat against BBU on Saturday. To say everyone at the club is gutted is an understatement. Even though Crown dominated the match, enjoyed more possession and better goal opportunities, they couldn't put the cup tie to bed, even when BBU went down to 10-men, and paid a heavy price for not converting their penalty kicks. You knew exactly what it meant to BBU with all their jumping around and hollering, they never believed they could beat Crown but when Chhun Sothearath's penalty kick hit the back of the net, their wildest dreams came true. The first half of regular time was easily the highlight of the tie. Four goals and both times that Crown got their noses in front, BBU didn't give them a chance to consolidate their lead with quick-fire equalisers. A Sun Sopanha free-kick sailed inches wide and Kouch Sokumpheak's weak shot was cleared off the goal-line before Phoung Narong guided home a half-volley from the edge of the box on 12 minutes to give Crown the lead. Chan Chaya's header from Sopanha's corner was blocked and cleared only for Narong to whip his nicely-executed shot over everyone's head and into the net.
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."