Sunday, February 28, 2010

Get a grip

"Mummy, where's my dummy?"
It makes me so angry. I'm talking about the farce that played out a few minutes before half-time in the first of the Hun Sen Cup semi-finals yesterday at Olympic Stadium. Naga were three goals down and got pissed off when Sun Sovannrithy went down in the jostling before a corner kick, claiming an elbow from Crown's Lor Pichseyla. I don't believe the referee saw the incident but he brandished a yellow card to Pichseyla anyway. He's that sort of referee, happy to dish out cards willy-nilly, regardless of the effect it has later in the game. However, the reaction of the Naga team, fuelled by their team manager, was to walk to the touchline and wait for instructions whilst the manager called who knows on his mobile. Probably his mum. Asking her where he'd left his dummy.
Om Thavrak and Meas Channa took off their shirts, the rest of the players looked non-plussed, officials from the Cambodian Football Federation appeared, went away, returned and went away again shaking their heads, and still the team manager was on the phone. After twelve minutes of complete stupidity, someone made Naga see sense, they put their shirts back on and returned to the pitch. The game continued for a couple of minutes before the half-time whistle was blown.
I wasn't pitchside so I don't know why the Naga team changed their minds and ended their mini sit-down. A realization that they looked complete pricks may've been part of it. Or a threat to expel them from future cup competitions might have been another. All I know is that it makes Naga and Cambodian football look so amateurish, as it did when Phnom Penh Crown did the same trick in last season's play-offs. No one club is bigger than the rules of the game. There is no room for throwing your dummy out of the cot in such an irresponsible fashion. I saw at the SEA Games when this type of behaviour goes unchecked. The Malaysian team physically attacked the referee, and yet they were still able to stay in the competition, and won it, god forbid. The game's administrators have to come down hard on this type of conduct or teams and players will continue to push the edge of this particular envelope and it will all end in tears. The game will suffer and so will my enjoyment.
The Naga players hog the touchline waiting for instructions
The Naga manager decides on the fate of the cup semi-final, whilst everyone else sits on their hands
Naga skipper Om Thavrak (right) and match referee Thong Chankethya suffering from stress. All photos courtesy of

The 2nd SF line-ups

The Ministry of National Defense line-up before their semi-final success: LtoR: Udom, Borin, Soksana, Piseth, Rady, Borey (c): Khemarin, Dalin, Kumpheak, Seiha, Virak
Pre-match pics from the 2nd semi-final on Saturday, which saw the Defense Ministry cause of bit of a surprise by beating Preah Khan Reach 1-nil. They now face Phnom Penh Crown in next weekend's Hun Sen Cup final.
The red shirts of Preah Khan Reach before the game, which they lost 1-nil: LtoR: Udom, Raksmey, Rithy, Chanrasmey, Mic, Saravuth, Thuon, El Nasa, Narith, Saray, Kiri
The second semi-final was played under floodlights at Olympic Stadium

Can you feel it?

Phnom Penh Crown players take their bow at the end of their semi-final success
I think you can get a sense of the happiness exuding from the Phnom Penh Crown players and staff at the conclusion of their penalty shoot-out semi-final win against Naga Corp on Saturday.
Phuong Narong took off his shirt and ran to the touchline after scoring the winning penalty
Overcome with emotion, Crown's Phuong Narong was in tears at the end of the cup tie
It's all hugs and smiles for Crown after their 4-3 penalty win over Naga Corp
The Crown players take a minute to calm down after the emotional rollercoaster of the penalty shoot-out

Pre-match photos

Phnom Penh Crown line-up before the semi-final. LtoR: Sophana, Tiny, Sokngorn, Bunchhay, Pichseyla, Veasna, Sovannara, Chhaya, Sokly, Sothearith (c), Virath
Pre-match snaps from the incident-packed Phnom Penh Crown v Naga Corp semi-final on Saturday afternoon.
Naga Corp before the start of their casino-backed semi-final against PPCrown. LtoR: Sovannrithy, Channa, Chenla, Soto, Sokhom, Thavrak (c), Chom, Veasna, Vatanak, Sophy, Chanthan
My ongoing series of 'Great Toss-Ups of our Time' gets another headliner before the start of the Crown v Naga semi-final. The captains are Thul Sothearith in red and Om Thavrak (Naga).

Saturday, February 27, 2010

After the Lord Mayor's Show

The second of the Hun Sen Cup semi-finals this afternoon was a case of After the Lord Mayor's Show, with Preah Khan Reach the clear favourites to beat the boys from the Ministry of National Defense, but the tables were turned when the Army ran out 1-0 victors. But it wasn't exactly a game to remember. In Samreth Seiha, MND have the country's top keeper and his safe handling and two worthy saves in the 2nd half ensured his team kept a clean sheet, his reaction stop to deny Sam El Nasa's close range effort was the pick of the game. MND grabbed their match winning goal on 27 minutes when teenager Oum Kumpheak stole in at the far post to rifle home a corner from Suong Virak. It was a fitting strike from the U23 international, who stood out amongst his peers in this game. The closest PKR came to levelling was a Khuon Laboravy free-kick that rebounded back off the crossbar, but to be frank they looked toothless and bereft of ideas and the Army march onto next weekend's final. Judging by their post match celebrations, you got the hint that they were a teeny bit pleased.

Comeback of comebacks - not quite

Let's relive the first of today's Hun Sen Cup semi-finals, just to give you an idea of how exciting it was. The clash of the titans, between the casino-backed teams of Phnom Penh Crown and Naga Corp, kicked off at 2.30pm. It was at least 35 degrees and you've got to give credit to both teams for playing in that furnace. The crowd was a good one, at least 6 or 7,000, the band was back in the stands and Crown were bolstered by the return to the side of their teenage starlet Keo Sokngorn, and their coach, was has returned from a stint in Thailand. Crown won the cup last year, beating Naga 1-0 in the final but it was Naga who capped the season as league champions to gain their revenge.

The early exchanges were straightforward enough before Crown took control with 3 goals in a seven-minute spell, catching Naga all at sea and cutting them to ribbons before we were 20 minutes into the game. On 13 minutes, Sokngorn announced his return when he coolly rolled the ball into an unguarded net from 3o yards out after Naga stopped for an offside flag that never came. Five minutes later, he was at it again, selling a dummy to Om Thavrak and rifling the ball into the roof of the net for his second. Naga lost the ball on the half-way line and failed to cut out a pass to Chan Chhaya, who stepped inside and fired a third across the face of keeper Chom Veasna. The bookings started to mount up and Crown keeper Peng Bunchhay showed his nerves when he dropped a routine catch onto the foot of Sun Sovannrithy, who managed to spoon it over the bar from a yard out. The match descended into farce a few minutes before the interval when Sovannrithy went down clutching his face, claiming he'd been elbowed by Lor Pichseyla, who was booked in the incident. The Naga manager called his players to the touchline and threatened a walk-off before Federation officials persuaded him to change his mind and send his players back out to complete the half. It echoed a similar incident in the play-offs last season, when Crown actually did walk off the pitch. The delay had lasted 12 minutes and Naga, three goals behind at the time, took on the role of 'spoilt brats' that Crown had made their own up til then.

The 2nd half was a very different story. Ten minutes in and Naga grabbed a lifeline when Chek Sokhom's floated 40 yard cross sailed over the flailing arms of Bunchhay and into the roof of the net. The jittery keeper made amends with a couple of good diving saves but Naga continued to press. On 75 minutes they were well and truly back in the tie when Sovannrithy, recently converted to a striking role and revelling in the limelight, neatly controlled and fired in an over the top pass from Kim Chanbunrith. With 5 minutes to go, Pichseyla inexplicably handed in the area, received a red card and allowed Naga's sub Chanbunrith to fire home the equaliser from the penalty spot. It was a comeback worthy of any cup semi-final.

Four minutes into extra time, both sides were down to 10-men when Naga skipper Om Thavrak went for an early bath for a senseless late tackle. Bookings continued to mount up - referee Thong Chankethya ended up flashing 14 yellows and 2 reds. It seems to me that Cambodian referees love to write reports after their games as they can't help penciling way too many names into their notebooks. Both teams hit the post in extra time, Chin Chom for Naga, Tieng Tiny for Crown, before Naga were handed the opportunity to record the comeback of all comebacks with a minute to go. Sovannrithy was clattered by Bunchhay as he sped through and Chankeythya pointed to the penalty spot. Teab Vatanak took the kick instead of regular spot-kick specialist Chanbunrith and Bunchhay pulled off a great save to leave the crowd stunned into silence. The whistle went soon after with penalty kicks the decider.

Naga's Chin Chom stepped up to send Bunchhay the wrong way with the first penalty. Crown's Tieng Tiny skied his team's first kick. Bunchhay then saved Tong Soto's weakly struck shot and Keo Sokngorn levelled it at one apiece. Chanbunrith skied the next kick and Crown nosed ahead when Sun Sopanha made no mistake. Sovannrithy netted for Naga, as did Sun Samprathna, with Thul Sothearith also scoring in between, to level it at 3 each. With Sam Mina's kick saved by Chom Veasna, it went to sudden death. Teab Vatanak stepped up for Naga, with his miss in extra time fresh in his memory and planted his kick in the corner but was ordered to retake the spot-kick as he stuttered in his run up. Bunchhay saved his weak second attempt and left Phuong Narong to whack in the deciding penalty at 4-3 to spark emotional scenes as Narong tore his shirt off and ran to the bench in tears, as Naga players held their heads in disbelief. Football really is a funny old game.

The passion of the cup

The Hun Sen Cup final next week will be between Phnom Penh Crown and the National Defense Ministry after those two teams came out on top in today's semi-finals. The Army team had the easier of the semis, beating Preah Khan Reach 1-nil, albeit against the odds and the formbook. However, the real drama of the day came about in the afternoon's first match between Crown and their big rivals, Naga Corp. This match had just about everything you could ask for in a cup tie. Passion, often mistimed, was evident and that was clear at the card card which reached two reds and 14 yellows. The goals count was just as high with Crown taking a 3-nil lead at half-time with a 3-goal splurge in just seven minutes. Naga, who'd threatened a walk-off just before the interval, came back strongly and pulled back the deficit, the game finishing 3- 3 at full-time, with the Naga equaliser coming from the penalty spot with five minutes to go. In extra time they blew the chance of a win by failing from the penalty spot with almost the last kick of the game and that meant a penalty shoot-out. It was 3-3 after the first five spot-kicks and onto sudden death. The drama continued to unfold when Teab Vatanak had to retake his penalty (he'd missed in extra time), which was saved and then Phuong Narong stepped up to fire Crown into the final before bursting into floods of tears. It was time for everyone to draw a huge breath of air. This game was certainly a glorious advert for the good, and bad, of Cambodian football. More later, after I've had a lie down in a darkened room.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Brief look at the semis

Tomorrow (Saturday 27th) will see the semis of the Hun Sen Cup taking place at the Olympic Stadium. They begin at 2pm with the mouth-watering Phnom Penh Crown versus Naga Corp tie. Both teams are backed by casinos, so aren't short of a bob or two, though Crown are definitely the moneybags of the Cambodia football scene. Crown missed out on the CPL title last season but they did clinch the Hun Sen Cup, beating Naga 1-nil in the final. So it's revenge time for Naga tomorrow and they get the nod from me. I think they'll have just too much on the day for Crown to handle in tomorrow's semi final, though the league games may be a different matter, depending on what foreign talent the two teams parade in a few weeks time. It was Naga who triumphed in the Super 4 play-off to claim the league championship last time around, after Crown came out on top during the regular season. A crap way to decide the champions but it made for an exciting finale.
In the other semi, on paper and in reality, Preah Khan Reach should out-gun the Ministry of National Defense but I hope they don't. I'd like to see the Army team get through to face Naga in the final. Just my personal preference. The Army came alive in their 9-1 quarter-final win over the provincial whipping boys Rithisen, but Preah Khan will be a much much tougher nut to crack, and full of some of the country's most experienced players. If the Army keeper Samreth Seiha can play a blinder and their two wingers lead the PKR defence a merry dance, they could just do it. Fingers crossed.


Welcome to my blog on football in the Kingdom of Cambodia. For the last couple of years, my Cambodia football-related blog posts have found a home at However, this is their new home from home. Any football posts relating to the Cambodian national team, the Cambodian Premier League or anything to do with football in the Kingdom, you'll find them here.