Sunday, September 25, 2011

Crown go down 2-3 in the Final

Taiwan Power Company celebrate their cup success
Phnom Penh Crown lost 2-3 to Taiwan Power Company (aka Taipower) in tonight's Final of the AFC President's Cup. But the scoreline tells only half the story. With Crown pushing hard for an equalizer as the clock ran down into four minutes of added-on time at the end of a pulsating cup final, referee Marai Mohammed Alawaji from Saudi Arabia, refused to award the Cambodian team a nailed-on penalty when Hong Ratana evaded two defenders in the penalty area but was caught on the ankle by Tu Ming-Feng. The referee waved play on but was immediately surrounded by a posse of Crown players, incensed by his non-decision, and in quick succession, three players pushed the official in the chest. After order was restored and a consultation with his linesmen, Alawaji flashed the red card to Sun Sovannrithy, Chan Chaya and San Narith for their actions. The final whistle blew soon after and as the Taipower players began to celebrate, substitute Kuao-Kai Pan raced from the bench to attack Hong Ratana from behind, sparking a mass brawl between players from both sides that only subsided when the head coaches intervened. It was a shocking end to a fiery cup final that also saw Taipower lose Yu-Lin Chen to a straight red card with 12 minutes remaining, for a shirt pull on Sok Pheng as he was running through on goal. Crown head coach David Booth's reaction was one of obvious disappointment. "We made too many mistakes today and it's cost us. We fought back in the game and in the last five minutes we could've equalized. The referee decided not to give us anything. It was a definite penalty, our player chested the ball down past two players and was brought down. The referee has got to be answerable for his decision, though I'd like to see it again. At the end, we saw the frustration of our players. Overall we did well. We could've lost by a bigger margin but we fought back and I'm just sorry for the players that they didn't get the chance to equalize."

Fielding an unchanged line-up for the third game, Crown went behind in the third minute when Kuo Ying-Hung evaded Odion Obadin on the bye-line and his floated center was headed in by an unmarked He Ming-Chan. Despite that setback, Crown pushed on and Kouch Sokumpheak's bye-line cross was mis-controlled in the box by Chan Chaya, whilst a dangerous low center by Sun Sovannrithy was turned behind under pressure. On the twenty minute mark, Chaya's quick feet failed to control a Sokumpheak pass though the striker was upended by Chien-Wei Liang as the ball ran through to keeper Pan Wei-Chih. Crown's equalizer came on 35 minutes when Kingsley Njoku fired home from ten yards after Thul Sothearith's cross was chested down by Khim Borey in the box and Njoku applied the finishing touch. Yi-Wei Chen saw a header fizz well wide after he made a good run into a dangerous area, whilst Crown keeper Peng Bunchhay showed his agility to claw away a free-kick from Ying-Hung a few minutes before the interval. Njoku's forceful run was halted when his shot was blocked and Chaya's intended pass to Sokumpheak was cut out in the last action of the first-half.

As they'd done in the first-half, Taipower took the lead in the third minute after the restart. Po-Liang Chen evaded Tieng Tiny's challenge and fed He Ming-Chan, and the striker made no mistake with his sixth goal of the tournament, firing low across the face of Bunchhay in the Crown goal. Crown were certainly not finding favour with the Saudi Arabian referee, who booked Sothearith and Obadin but failed to reach for his cards for similar infractions by the home team. On 63 minutes, referee Alawaji felt he saw a trip from Obadin on Po-Liang Chen, though the defender, and his teammates, protested his innocence, but justice was done when Kai-Chun Hung skied the penalty kick high and wide. Njoku and Sokumpheak combined to harry the Taipower defence but to no avail and on 67 minutes, the host team increased their lead. Kai-Chun Hung's byeline cross was fumbled by Bunchhay and Po-Liang Chen was on hand to tap the ball home, much to the delight of the paltry 3, 238 home crowd. Crown introduced striker Sok Pheng and as he moved onto a Chaya pass, his shirt was pulled as he shaped to shoot and the referee had no alternative but to dismiss Yu-Lin Chen on 78 minutes. With Crown forcing the issue, a San Narith corner evaded the punch of keeper Pan Wei-Chih and Sun Sovannrithy had the easy task to nod home at the far post with 7 minutes remaining. Game on. As the clock ticked over into four minutes of additional time, Narith's pass fell to Sokumpheak but his half-volley went straight to Wei-Chih, as did Obadin's header from a Chaya corner kick before the penalty appeal, that referee Alawaji waved away. The fracas that followed took the shine off a fabulous Crown performance in the competition that stumbled at the final hurdle but will be remembered for taking Crown further than ever before in the AFC President's Cup.
Crown line-up: Bunchhay, Sovannrithy, Sothearith, Tiny (Sovan 66), Obadin, Narith, Sopanha (Ratana 80), Borey (S Pheng 68), Chaya, Njoku, Sokumpheak. Subs not used: Visokra, Dara, Vanthan, Virak, Sophanal, Sophta, H Pheng. Bookings: Tiny, Sothearith, Obadin, Chaya, Sopanha. Sent off: Sovannrithy, Chaya, Narith.
The Crown players and officials line up to receive their runners-up medals
The Crown players looking non-plussed after an attack on them by the Taipower bench at the final whistle
The Crown line-up for tonight's game. Back Row LtoR: Njoku, Tiny, Sovannrithy, Obadin, Sothearith, Bunchhay. Front Row: Borey, Sokumpheak, Chaya Narith, Sopanha
Crown line up before the VIP handshakes
The man at the center of the controversy, the Saudi Arabian referee catches his coin, with Crown skipper Thul Sothearith (blue)
The Crown team waiting in the tunnel before the game

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