Saturday, July 12, 2014

Crowned as Champions

PPCFC v Naga, back row, LtoR: Srin, Boris, Bisan, Obadin, Borey, Ary. Front: Suhana, Sothy, Da, Sokumpheak, Pellegrino (and mascots) - click to enlarge

Match Result: Phnom Penh Crown 1 NagaCorp 0 (Metfone C-League).
Phnom Penh Crown's challenge for the Metfone C-League, winning all 8 matches in the second round of competition, gave them the comfortable position of having to win just one of their final three league matches to claim the title. With a full complement of players to choose from, only a late concern for Hong Pheng left him on the bench as coach Sam Schweingruber went with his tried and tested line-up, led out by captain Kouch Solumpheak. Opponents NagaCorp included no less than six ex-Crown players in their squad. Naga kicked off but it was Crown's Sos Suhana who had the first shot at goal in the second minute, but it was an easy pick-up for Samrith Seiha. Khim Borey cut in and let fly, but it sailed wide and Chhim Sambo gave an easy catch for Yok Ary at the other end. On fifteen minutes, George Bisan took a pass from Sokumpheak, turned his marker and sent in a dipping, bouncing shot that Seiha just managed to tip around the post. Five minutes later, Kok Boris rose high to head Borey's center firmly against the cross-bar and as the ball bounced down on the goal-line, the danger was cleared. It was the highlight of an otherwise nervy and inconclusive first-half for both teams. Odion Obadin stood strong to head away a dangerous Sun Sopanha corner and moments later Sun Sovannrithy found room in the box but headed over the top with Naga's best opportunity of the half. Borey sent a cross-shot across Seiha's goal, a rebound off Ngoy Srin sailed over the bar and Adriano Pellegrino's center was inches away from Bisan's boot in front of goal as referee Chy Samedy blew for half-time. 

Pheng replaced Srin at the break as Crown showed their determination to get the all-important win they required. Pellegrino tried a long range effort that was well wide, and Bisan set himself up for a drive from the edge of the box that took a deflection off Zogbe Anderson and cleared the bar by a matter of inches. With their next attack, Crown at last broke the deadlock and sent their fans into raptures in the grandstand. Pellegrino, as he has done so many times, sent over another of his pinpoint crosses from the right flank and Sokumpheak timed his run to perfection, sending his header past Seiha and into the corner of the net from twelve yards. A fitting reward for the captain who covered every blade of grass on the pitch. Bisan was next to threaten as he drove goalwards from 20 yards out with Seiha parrying and collecting at the second attempt. Sovannrithy headed wide and Ary dealt comfortably with a long range effort from Jang In Yong as the clock ticked down. In stoppage time, Anderson got a touch to a cross but steered it wide and with the final action of the game, Seiha rushed out of his area and clattered into Bisan, as the striker got to the ball first but sent it looping wide of the target. The whistle blew and Crown's players and staff began wild celebrations on the pitch as the three points confirmed their fifth Championship victory, with two matches still left to play.

Head coach Sam Schweingruber gave his verdict in the midst of the celebrations. "It's a great relief finishing the job in the first Final and not having to go through another two Finals. Lots of emotions, pressure, it's been building up over the week, trying to prepare, do everything right and hoping things will work out. The game was more difficult than I expected. They had almost nothing but we still couldn't create the chances and opportunities that we are used to. At the end of the day, just very happy, thankful to the fans who came today to support us, they were really amazing - and really thankful to the players who put in 90 minutes of excellent fight, showing the right spirit, showing the discipline and showing the commitment of champions. I was very happy with what we displayed, but we can clearly see we have a long way to go if we want to play at the next level. We have to get a lot more comfortable to play our style when we're under pressure, when things are a bit shaky because of the emotions, we have to develop that. Hopefully we can move forward as a club and the team can establish even more victories for the future of Crown."
PPCFC v NagaCorp: Ary, Srin (Pheng 46), Da, Boris, Obadin, Sokumpheak, Sothy, Borey, Suhana (Thierry 88), Pellegrino (Makara 90+2), Bisan. Subs not used: Yaty, Soksela, Dara, Pisa, Sokheng, Sosela, Morslim. Bookings: Boris. MOTM: Sokumpheak - the game's winning goal. Goal: Sokumpheak (53). 
Celebrations after the final whistle - courtesy of Masayori Ishikawa

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