Sunday, September 4, 2011

Thrilling climax

PPCFC line-up. Back Row LtoR: Vanthan, Ota, Dara, Sopanha, Obadin, Bunchhay. Middle Row: Narith, Sokumpheak, Sovan, Ratana, Njoku. Front Row: PPCFC Academy boys.
In all the excitement, I nearly forgot the match report. Where do I start, as this match had a bit of everything and was a fitting climax to the Metfone C-League season. If this type of match doesn't get the juices flowing for Cambodian football fans, then nothing will. The Naga strikeforce was the expected threat against a makeshift Phnom Penh Crown backline, decimated by suspensions to three key defenders, and so it proved. Hong Ratana had the first chance of the game, a back post header that he sent wide, on five minutes. On 11 minutes, with Naga's first real threatening move, Julius Oiboh crossed to the far post where Omogba Esoh was lying in wait behind Soeng Vanthan and his diving header went inside the near post beyond Peng Bunchhay's fingertips. Sun Sopanha sent a 25-yard free kick a few feet wide and Kingsley Njoku weaved past two defenders but fired into the side netting from an acute angle. Kouch Sokumpheak had his first chance when he raced onto San Narith's pass but his low drive was stopped at the foot of the post by keeper Phorn Ratana. Naga's next attack on 19 minutes brought a second goal as Oiboh found Esoh in the box, he cut inside Vanthan and gave Bunchhay no chance from 15 yards out. Two minutes later, Odion Obadin's far post header hit the arm of Soeung Monyroath and Crown were awarded a penalty. Kingsley Njoku grabbed the ball and rolled in the spot-kick, which was immediately cancelled out by referee Khuon Virak for encroaching. Njoku wasn't put off and rolled his second kick into the opposite corner to make it 2-1 with 22 minutes on the clock. Bunchhay in the Crown goal was on hand to deny Oiboh on the half hour and then watched as Esoh's inswinging corner kick rebounded off the cross-bar and was scrambled away to safety. In the final minute of the first half, Naga took advantage of a misplaced clearance by Chan Dara as Oiboh muscled his way past Vanthan, pushed Sok Sovan in the chest but got away with it, and then curled a superb finish over Bunchhay's head to make it 3-1 at the interval.

Crown's half-time substitute Sok Pheng made an early impression but his goal-bound drive in a melee was pushed out by Ratana and the striker then headed a Sun Sopanha corner kick over the top. On 55 minutes referee Virak turned a blind eye to an obvious penalty as Sokumpheak was sent sprawling in the Naga area after a mazy run as Crown forced the pace. Njoku fired over on the run before Chan Chaya replaced Hong Ratana on the hour. Naga's Teab Vathanak screwed a great chance wide before Crown got themselves back into the match with a second goal on 67 minutes. A foul on Sok Pheng 25 yards out saw Sopanha touch the free-kick to Kouch Sokumpheak, he shunted the ball on a yard before unleashing a powerful low drive through a forest of legs and into the bottom corner for 3-2. Pheng was in the thick of it again when he got on the end of a Sokumpheak headed flick but Ratana in the Naga goal was on hand to push his shot aside. Crown's best chance to equalize fell to Chaya, on 79 minutes, as Pheng and Sokumpheak combined to set him up with a clear sight of goal, but keeper Ratana got a strong hand to his powerful drive to send it over the bar. At the other end Chhim Sambo found himself in space ten yards out but Bunchhay cleared the danger with his legs. With the clock ticking down to five minutes left to play, Crown striker Kingsley Njoku came to the fore. A loose ball arrived at the striker's feet, he turned and sent a low drive from the edge of the penalty box inside the near post before setting off for a triple somersault in celebration. That made it 3-3 and Crown's championship credentials were there for all to see. In five minutes of added-on time, Naga's Chin Chom was denied by Bunchhay from close range and Crown's young striker Hong Pheng sent a skidding shot inches wide, before Chom watched in dismay as the final kick of the game was deflected wide. It ended all-square and a fabulous advertisement for the Metfone C-League.
Crown line-up: Bunchhay, Dara, Vanthan (S Pheng 46), Sovan (H Pheng 82), Obadin, Narith, Sopanha, Ota, Ratana (Chaya 62), Njoku, Sokumpheak. Subs not used: Visokra, Bunna, Sophanal, Sophat, Rathanak, Virak, Sochivorn. Bookings: Njoku, Sopanha, S Pheng.
The Crown team and the Academy boys before the game begins
The Crown bench before the match
Sun Sopanha (23) leads out the champions for their final league match of the season
The whole Naga squad line-up before the kick-off in a break with normal protocol

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