Monday, May 7, 2012

We're through

Matchwinner Khim Borey (7) with Hong Pheng (25) at the final whistle
At one stage it looked like the game would never take place. The torrential rain left most of the Olympic Stadium pitch covered in water and there was no end in sight to the rain. As we got closer to kick-off time, the AFC match commissioner and match referee got the team coaches to agree that a half-hour delay might just see an improvement and they were right. The players had a twenty-minute warm-up on the rain-sodden pitch, after they'd already warmed up inside the Olympic indoor court, as the rain weakened and the surface water quickly disappeared, with the match finally getting underway at 5pm. The state of the pitch was a leveller for both sides. Phnom Penh Crown needed a win to secure qualification from Group B of the AFC President's Cup, while Nepal Police required a win to keep their hopes alive.

With everything to play for, a crowd of 3,500 braved the elements, hoping to witness a Crown success and Tieng Tiny gave them the first attempt on goal in the fourth minute, as his 35-yard shot fizzed wide. Nepal's Yogesh Shrestha was prominent early on, causing a few problems and twice his goal-bound attempts ended up in the arms of Crown keeper Yok Ary. The first real threat on either goal came on 21 minutes and Khim Borey's glorious strike from fifteen yards out would prove to be decisive. Kouch Sokumpheak collected a ball on the touchline, moved inside and hit a precise cross-field ball to his long-time strike partner Borey, who took a touch before unleashing an unstoppable drive inside the far post. Borey, his teammates and the audience in the grandstand were in raptures. After the opening goal, Crown got the bit between their teeth and soon after Sok Pheng clouted a shot a foot wide of the upright, Sokumpheak fired over from outside the box, Pheng cut inside his marker and hit the side-netting, while Sokumpheak missed by a whisker, getting on the end of a Borey center. Just after the half-hour, Sokumpheak and Pheng combined with the latter's stinging drive pushed aside at full stretch by Nepal stopper Ritesh Thapa. At the other end, Sos Suhana blocked a Bhola Silwal drive while Yok Ary was in the right place to collect a Shrestha downward header and to punch the same player's inswinging corner from under the crossbar.

The half-time interval proved a blessing for both teams, who needed the rest after battling with the pitch conditions. Odion Obadin opened up the second-half with a 40-yard effort that just crept over the bar. His first-half performance had been exceptional and he went close to extending Crown's lead. Ten minutes in and Sokumpheak, released by Chan Dara's pass, couldn't believe his misfortune when his sliderule shot hit one post, rolled along the goal-line to hit the foot of the other upright before Ouk Sothy blasted the loose ball against the frame of post and bar. Crown continued to press forward and Sok Pheng was denied by Suraj's last-ditch tackle, Borey headed straight at Thapa and a Suhana 25-yard effort skidded wide. On 70 minutes, Obadin looked to have netted again, only for Thapa to fingertip his powerful header from Sothy's corner, over the crossbar. A flurry of corners for Nepal put Yok Ary under pressure with Shrestha's pin-point inswingers forcing the Crown stopper to twice punch the ball away from his goal-line.

A few minutes later and it was Chan Dara's turn to strike the woodwork. Picking up a loose ball a long way out, he sped forward and decided on a pot-shot, which Thapa pushed onto the post and collected the rebound. A well-struck free-kick from Nepal's dangerman, Shrestha, was tipped over by Ary before their best chance fell to Rakesh Shrestha at the far post but his touch failed him and the opportunity was spurned. In the closing minutes, Suhana's touch found Thapa in the way while Sokumpheak knew it wasn't his day, when he broke clear and watched as his low drive deflected off the foot of the post again. In the second of four added minutes, Hong Pheng set up Borey for what looked like a simple second, but his sidefoot went agonizingly past the post, but it didn't matter. His 21st minute strike was the one that counted and which sends Crown through to the final round later this year, with still a game to spare in their Group B qualifying stage. It got a bit nervous towards the end, a one-goal lead nearly always brings with it a few heart flutters, but David Booth's men deservedly came out on top against worthy opponents, much to the delight of the watching spectators.
PPCFC v Nepal Police: Ary, Rady, Sovan, Tiny, Obadin, Sothy, Dara, Suhana, S Pheng (H Pheng 63), Borey, Sokumpheak. Subs not used: Chamrouen, Vanthan, Lika, Sophanal, Seyha, Sovanna, Makara. Bookings: Suhana. 
PPCFC line-up. Back LtoR: Obadin, Rady, Tiny, Sovan, Dara, Ary. Front: S Pheng, Suhana, Sothy, Sokumpheak, Borey
The pitch moments before kick-off

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