Saturday, May 21, 2011

A perfect day

Crown's 3-nil winning line-up. Back Row LtoR: Tiny, Njoku, Obadin, Dara, Sothearith, Bunchhay. Front Row: Narith, Narong, Sokumpheak, Chaya, Sopanha.
It doesn't get much better than this. Phnom Penh Crown earned themselves a confident victory from their first AFC President's Cup Group A match this afternoon, beating the Don Bosco Sports Club from Sri Lanka 3-0, in front of a partisan Olympic Stadium crowd. They kept another clean sheet, their fifth in a row, and will kick themselves for not adding more to their tally, as they dominated their opponents for much of the match, with their neat passing game and incisive finishing. Fielding an unchanged line-up, head coach Bojan Hodak was in a similar frame of mine at the end of the game. "I was more or less happy but our guys were a little excited and they ran like mad for thirty minutes, pressing the Sri Lankan team, creating chances, getting the penalty, scoring...they need to learn how to pace themselves...when to speed up, when to slow down. In my opinion, they got excited and the crowd pushed them. I can't complain about their attitude but some of them were using too much heart and not enough brain. We should've won by more because goal difference can be important in this tournament, though I'm happy with one more clean sheet and my defenders played well. Only Narith was below par because he's been injured and didn't train properly the last few days." Looking ahead to the next two matches, the coach demanded more from his team. "To beat Abahani we'll need to be 30% better than today and to beat Neftchi, 50% better. The Neftchi team is tactically much better than the other teams, though physically they don't have the quality of the others. We will need to improve to get success."

The game got underway with Crown probing their opponents though it was Don Bosco who offered up the first shot of the game when Ranga Fernando fired well over from long range. Both Sun Sopanha and Kingsley Njoku put shots wide of the target before Sopanha's long raking ball released Chan Chaya and his quick feet in the box drew a mistimed tackle from Thilina Arachchilage, with referee Vladislav Tseytlin immediately pointing to the penalty spot. Up stepped defender Tieng Tiny to take the spot-kick but he rolled his strike agonizingly wide to the disbelief of the home crowd. That was in the 19th minute. Two minutes later a neat interchange between Njoku and Kouch Sokumpheak saw the latter cut inside his marker and unleash a fizzing shot into the side netting. Crown were on top and made their superiority count on 25 minutes. Thul Sothearith and Chan Chaya combined to set up Njoku, who burst between two defenders and fired in a low drive that nestled in the far corner to give the home side a deserved lead. Kouch Sokumpheak was looking particularly lively against a pedestrian Don Bosco and glanced a header wide before whipping in a shot that was blocked by the back of visiting skipper Manju Pedige. San Narith was next to try his luck though his break into the box and thunderbolt shot was punched away to safety by keeper Ajith Kumara. Don Bosco came into the game as the first-half drew to a close with Rashen Dalpethado getting some space on the edge of the area but twice firing harmlessly wide.

The second half began brightly for Crown when Sun Sopanha's inswinging corner was dropped on his goal-line by Kumara only for the keeper to recover his error. Moments later, Sopanha's cross to the near post was touched over the top by Chaya's quick feet. Six minutes in and referee Tseytlin from Uzbekistan waved away loud penalty appeals as Sokumpheak was floored by Kumara's clumsy challenge. Crown stopper Peng Bunchhay was quick off his line to deal with a couple of long balls over the top before two goals in as many minutes saw Crown firmly in the driving seat. On 66 minutes, Sopanha was strong in the challenge, fed Kouch Sokumpheak and the Crown marksman sidefooted his low drive wide of Kumara for the second goal. Little more than a minute later, Njoku put Chan Chaya in space and he kept his shot low across the face of goal for Crown's third, to send the home fans into raptures. A few minutes later Sopanha looked to have added another when his bye-line chip eluded Kumara but was hacked clear of the line by Dilki Wewalage. Crown introduced three fresh pairs of legs and Hong Ratana was denied by Kumara's on-rushing frame after he pounced on a neat one-two with Suong Virak. With four minutes remaining, Chaya ballooned the easiest chance of the day over the bar after Sun Sovannrithy's bye-line cross had placed the opportunity on a plate at the far post. That was it in terms of goalmouth action, as Crown recorded a morale-boosting success, cheered on by thousands in the main grandstand, giving themselves a real opportunity to qualify from this group competition if they can achieve similar success in their next two matches.
Crown line-up; Bunchhay, Dara, Sothearith (Ratana 75), Tiny, Obadin, Narith (Sovannrithy 62), Narong, Sopanha, Chaya, Sokumpheak, Njoku (Virak 69). Subs not used: Visokra, Bunna, Vanthan, Sophanal, Rathanak, Sophat, Sochivorn, H Pheng, S Pheng. Booking: Sothearith.
Crown's foreign contingent of Kingsley Njoku (left) and Odion Obadin rest and reflect after the 3-0 victory
Crown head coach Bojan Hodak issues a note of caution at the post-match press conference
Captain Thul Sothearith leads out his Crown team in front of a packed grandstand
Crown line-up for the pre-match handshakes
The Crown bench moments before the start. Next to Bojan Hodak is assistant coach Bouy Dary.

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