PPCFC v Abahani: back Row LtoR: Obadin, Dara, Tiny, Njoku, Bunchhay. Front Row: Narong, Narith, Sopanha, Sokumpheak, Chaya, Sothearith"We deserved to win," was the parting comment from Phnom Penh Crown's head coach Bojan Hodak at his after-match press conference following his team's hard-fought 1-0 victory over Bangladesh champions Abahani Limited at the Olympic Stadium Monday afternoon. The win earned Crown a place in the finals of the AFC President's Cup with still one game to play in this Group A qualification series. Two teams qualify from the four-team group and both Crown and Neftchi, the Kyrgyzstan champions, will progress after winning their opening two matches. Hodak was quick to praise his opponents. "They are a good team and have a few very good players. But we had more chances and we deserved to win." He also focused on his team's defensive qualities. "We have now played six matches without conceding a goal. That breeds confidence. Our defenders played particularly well, but so did the whole team. It's a team effort. We want to finish top of the group, but I'll need to look at the condition of our players. I'm very happy with our performance."
With a victory against Don Bosco already in the locker, Crown kicked-off against Abahani, who have twice hosted similar qualification series. There was little to choose between the two teams in the early exchanges and the first goal threat came from Crown's Kouch Sokumpheak, who shot on the turn but was off target with his effort. Crown goalkeeper Peng Bunchhay, who has looked assured in both matches, snuffed out the danger when Pranotosh Kumar got on the end of a free-kick after twenty minutes. Seven minutes later the best opportunity of the game went begging when Odion Obadin rose above everyone else only to send his powerful header over the cross-bar from Sun Sopanha's corner kick. Abahani's passing game was coming to the fore as the first-half wore on and Mohammed Robin sent a fizzing shot wide of the target, before Bunchhay punched away Ibrahim Awudu's thumping cross-shot for a corner. The half-time whistle arrived with both teams feeling the effects of the hot sun.
The experienced Sun Sovannrithy replaced Phoung Narong at half-time; the latter had been booked and received an elbow in his face for his troubles. Crown defender Tieng Tiny was also cautioned as he stopped the explosive run of Pranotosh Kumar just after the interval. The first chance of the second period fell to Crown's Kingsley Njoku, but his weakly struck left-foot drive sailed wide after a defensive mix-up presented him with the opportunity. Just after the hour, Sun Sovannrithy fed Sokumpheak inside the penalty box and his low drive looked destined for the bottom corner, until Abahani keeper Alam Sohel stuck out his right foot to divert it for a corner kick. The large crowd at the stadium 'arrh'd' their disappointment. In the space of a minute, both teams created more chances. San Narith will pinch himself for not getting his 20 yard shot on target when Sopanha rolled a free-kick to him, and at the other end, Obadin headed away an on-target header from Abahani's main threat, Ibrahim Awudu.
On 73 minutes, Peng Bunchhay came to Crown's rescue when he made himself large to deny Hossain Rony as he broke into the box and shunted his shot goalwards. From then on Crown took the upper hand. Chan Chaya's speed of foot was always a threat but his 79th minute header from a Sopanha free-kick, that was deflected to the far post by the defensive wall, was punched over by Alam Sohel. From the resulting Sopanha corner, a Tieng Tiny header fell to Chan Chaya, six yards from goal, and he whacked his shot past Sohel to send the Crown team, and the whole stadium, into raptures. There was no way back for Abahani as Crown closed the game out to record their second consecutive win in the competition and earn themselves a place in the finals of the AFC President's Cup.
PPCFC line-up: Bunchhay, Dara, Sothearith, Tiny, Obadin, Narith, Narong (Sovannrithy 45), Sopanha (Virak 88), Chaya, Sokumpheak, Njoku (Sochivorn 87). Subs not used: Visokra, Bunna, Vanthan, Sophanal, Rathanak, Sophat, Ratana, H Pheng, S Pheng. Bookings: Narong, Tiny, Dara.