|PPCFC line-up: Back Row LtoR: S Pheng, Sovan, Dara, Obadin, H Pheng, Tiny. Front: Rady, Suhana, Chaya, Ary, Borey|
Chim 'Sva' Rathanak, one of the forgotten men of Cambodian football, came off the bench to claim a share of the spoils in today's final Metfone C-League game of the regular season, as Phnom Penh Crown snatched fifth place from the clutches of BBU with the final kick of the season. This 1-1 draw with the unofficial champions, NagaCorp, sealed fifth spot for Crown, with a better goal difference over the students, with both teams on 27 points from their 18 league games. But it wasn't good enough to get them into the Super 4 play-offs which will begin in a couple of weeks time. For a club like PPCFC that is used to winning championships, that's a massive disappointment to both the team and their admirers. With Samrith Seiha left on the bench, the goalkeeping spot went to Yok Ary and Chan Dara was recalled in place of Henry Asonibe in central midfield. Tieng Tiny and Sok Sovan returned after injury absences.
Crown announced their intentions against Naga - who finished top of the table after the 18-game domestic season but were denied the title by the reintroduction of the play-offs - when Khim Borey's 25-yard drive was palmed around the post by keeper Pich Rovinyothin on two minutes. A minute later, the same two players were at it again, with Borey's left-footer sticking in the keeper's gloves. Naga would've put their money on Chuon Chum opening his account after six minutes when put through by Teab Vathanak, but the usually-reliable goal-poacher scuffed his shot wide. Both Chan Chaya and Borey continued to pepper the Naga goal with long-range efforts, but it was teammate Hong Pheng who should've done better with a free header on 26 minutes, which he sent inches wide of the upright. After Sos Suhana tried his luck, unsuccessfully, from distance and Chum headed a near post corner kick wide, the first half remained in stalemate mode.
The second period began as eagerly as the first with Crown again looking bright and busy early on, as Hong Pheng's low drive foiled by the feet of Rovinyothin and Sok Pheng's foray in the box, undone by his own wayward blast from fifteen yards out. Thul Sothearith looked ill at ease as he scooped the ball over his own bar with Suhana soon heading straight at the keeper and other efforts by Sovan, Pheak Rady and Sok Pheng all going awry in the opening fifteen minutes. Substitutions disrupted the flow of the game until Naga's top scorer Chum profited for a wayward Chaya pass only to see his close range finish thwarted by a point blank save by Ary. On 74 minutes, Borey was floored by Om Thavrak and he picked himself up to curl the resulting free-kick inches wide of the upright. A minute later and Naga took the lead against the run of play. A short corner was fed to Ou Lyhorng and his straight as a dye drive from the edge of the box somehow avoided Ary's flailing punch and Naga celebrated. Within a minute Suhana fed Hong Pheng and his hooked shot looked to be heading for the net until it was deflected wide. Without creating anymore obvious scoring chances, Crown's hopes of a top 5 finish were receding until the fourth minute of time added on by referee Khuon Virak - who frustrated Crown throughout with his one-eyed decisions. Chhun Sovanna worked the ball out to Chim Rathanak, a rarely-used substitute this campaign, on the right side of the penalty box and his audacious lofted chip sailed inside the far post for a classy finish to an otherwise unremarkable season. It was only what Crown had deserved from the game and they can now salvage their pride with a strong showing in the upcoming AFC President's Cup final round in Tajikistan.
Crown head coach David Booth was upbeat at the final whistle."I felt we dictated a lot of the play today, we played better all round, we looked more solid and to be fair, they've scored a lot of goals and won a lot of games and are the champion team quite rightly. I thought there were some decent performances today, but 1 or 2 looked poor but most of the time we looked quite strong and up for the game. It was a decent game to finish on, we didn't deserve to lose even though I felt we were going to, until we scored out of the blue in the final minute. It was a nice moment when Sva scored, good for him. We now have a friendly against the national team next week, which is the only game before the President's Cup trip."
PPCFC line-up v Naga: Ary, Rady (Da 62), Sovan, Tiny, Obadin, Dara, Suhana, Chaya (Sovanna 77), Borey, H Pheng, S Pheng (Rathanak 69). Subs not used: Seiha, Vanthan, Lika, Seyha, Srin, Sophanal, Asonibe, Makara. Bookings: Tiny, Rady.