Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Courting controversy

The new Cambodian national team coach, South Korean Lee Tae-Hoon, has made the first choices of his new regime by selecting 25 players from a training squad of 38, to travel to Vietnam today, and already he is courting controversy. The month and a half in Vietnam will give the new coach the opportunity to put his new squad through their paces - he is said to believe they are only 60% fit - before they go to Laos for the important AFF Suzuki Cup matches in the second half of October. However, out of the reckoning, at least as far as the trip to Vietnam is concerned, are a who's-who of the country's best players. They include the country's best keeper Samreth Seiha (pictured), defenders Om Thavrak, Sun Sovanrithy and Thong Udom, midfielders Oum Kumpheak, Prak Mony Udom, Pok Chanthan and winger Nov Soseila, whilst up front the national team will have to do without Teab Vathanak and Chan Chhaya. All of them were in previous squads announced by the former coach Scott O'Donell, except teenager Thong Udom. I think Seiha may be carrying an injury, I hope so as he's the best stopper we have. Of the 25 being taken to train at the home of V-Leaguers Hoang Anh Gia Lai, there are a few surprises, not least keeper Peng Bunchhay, who I thought had an average season for Phnom Penh Crown, eight players from the Army side that experienced such an appalling second half of the season and players like Nuth Sinoun and Tum Saray who spent large portions of the last campaign on the bench. Of the players originally announced for the training squad, the players highlighted in blue and in italics have been dropped from the squad that will be in Vietnam. The schedule for the national team in Vietnam has not been announced but it's understood they will play a series of friendly matches as part of their Suzuki Cup preparation.
Goalkeepers: Samreth Seiha, Sou Yaty, Peng Bunchhay, Ouk Mic.
Defenders: Rang Borin, Pheak Rady, Khek Khemarin, Nhim Sovanara, Rim Bunhieng, Touch Sokheng, Sos Nasiet, Tieng Tiny, Chan Dara, Sok Rithy, Lay Raksmey, San Narith, Thul Sothearith.
Midfielders: Sun Sopanha, Ieng Piseth, Soung Vireak, Phuong Soksana, Prum Putsethy, Chhun Sothearath, In Vichheka, Kim Chanbunrith, Sok Chanrasmey, Tum Saray, Khuon Laboravy, Samuth Dalin.
Forwards: Khim Borey, Kuoch Sokumpheak, Sin Dalin, Nuth Sinoun, Teab Vathanak, Keo Sokngorn, Sok Pheng, Kop Isa, Long Nasy.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Notable absentees

I've managed to get the list of 37 players called for national team squad training tomorrow morning translated and there are some notable absentees from the list. Top of the names that are missing is Sun Sovanrithy (pictured), the U23 skipper under Scott O'Donell and without doubt one of the top players in Cambodian football. His absence is a massive clanger by the coaches who selected the training squad. There's a suggestion that its because of his performance in the play-off semi-final when he got himself sent off, and if that's the case someone needs to get their head out of their ass and think about the bigger picture. Sovanrithy is a major part of the national team and the new coach Lee Tae-Hoon will be at a big disadvantage without him. Another nailed-on certainty for the national team should be Oum Kumpheak from the Army. I can only think that he's injured, hence his absence. He missed the last few Army games so that must be the reason. Already out of the picture was Nov Soseila who fell out with the Army coach and hasn't been seen for months. Another balls-up which will impact on the national team. Other players missing who I think deserve a spot in the squad are centre-half Thong Udom (Army) and midfielder Pok Chanthan (Naga). 4 players who were in the last national squad, Om Thavrak, Prak Mony Udom, Lorn Sotheara and Chan Chhaya, have played so few games this season that I can understand their omission.

Here is a list of the 37 players called-up by the football federation to take part in training sessions this week, in order to identify a reduced squad of about 25 that will head to Vietnam for a training camp on the 31st of this month. The 45-day camp will be at the home of V-Leaguers Hoang Anh Gia Lai. HAGL were one of the teams that joined in the BIDC Cup in Phnom Penh before last year's SEA Games, and they have pledged $4 million towards the construction of the new Cambodian national football center being built in the Bati district of Takeo.
Goalkeepers: Samreth Seiha, Sou Yaty, Peng Bunchhay, Ouk Mic.
Defenders: Rang Borin, Pheak Rady, Khek Khemarin, Nhim Sovanara, Rim Bunhieng, Touch Sokheng, Sos Nasiet, Tieng Tiny, Chan Dara, Sok Rithy, Lay Raksmey, San Narith.
Midfielders: Sun Sopanha, Ieng Piseth, Soung Vireak, Phuong Soksana, Prum Putsethy, Chhun Sothearath, In Vichheka, Kim Chanbunrith, Sok Chanrasmey, Tum Saray, Khuon Laboravy, Samuth Dalin.
Forwards: Khim Borey, Kuoch Sokumpheak, Sin Dalin, Nuth Sinoun, Teab Vathanak, Keo Sokngorn, Sok Pheng, Kop Isa, Long Nasy (Ministry of Interior, and only player outside the CPL).

Tae-Hoon meets and greets

Lee Tae-Hoon, the new national team coach of Cambodia, at Olympic Stadium this afternoon
The new national football team coach of Cambodia - Lee Tae-Hoon - met his players for the first time this afternoon. A squad of 36 players were called into the federation headquarters at Olympic Stadium to introduce themselves to the 39-year-old coach from South Korea and to hear more of the immediate plans before the squad is reduced to about 25 players for the training camp in Vietnam from the 31st of this month. Serious training will begin tomorrow morning at Olympic Stadium under the new coach, who's most recent experience was as the assistant coach of the South Korean national women's team. 8 of the players who reported in today are carrying injuries including Keo Sokngorn, San Narith, Samreth Seiha and Khim Borey. How serious those injuries are will have to be determined by the medical staff. Lee Tae-Hoon - his family name is Lee - spoke briefly to the players through an interpreter and introduced his backroom team, assistant coaches Ieng Saknida, Oum Savong, goalkeeping coach Prak Sovanny and physio Hay Sakiry.

Monday, August 23, 2010

It all starts now

The next bout of football to get excited about for Cambodian football fans will be the national team's involvement in the qualifying rounds of the AFF Suzuki Cup, which have today been confirmed as taking place in Vientiane, Laos between 22-30 October. Cambodia will join the host country, Philippines and Timor Leste in battling out for the two places up for grabs in the competition finals which will be shared between Vietnam and Indonesia from 1-29 December, with the group games scheduled from 1-8 December. The draw for the qualifying round and competition proper will take place on 15 September, and the teams who've already booked their finals place are Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Myanmar. The winners will collect $100,000 and all games will be screened on ESPN Star Sports tv channel. Vietnam are the current Suzuki Cup holders, beating Thailand 3-2 over two legs in December 2008. Cambodia qualified for the finals in 2008 though suffered three reversals in their group matches, against Singapore (5-0), Indonesia (4-0) and Myanmar (3-2).

Now that the Cambodian League season has come to a close, the focus will turn to the Cambodia national team and the new South Korean coach, Lee Tae-Hoon, who arrived in Phnom Penh on Friday, just in time to watch the season's finale, where Phnom Penh Crown defeated Preah Khan Reach 4-3. Lee Tae-Hoon will meet his training squad of players tomorrow at the Olympic Stadium for the first time. The expanded squad will head off to Vietnam soon to prepare for their AFF Suzuki Cup qualifying games in Laos between 22-30 October. That gives him just over a month and a half to whip the team into shape, though in my opinion, the national team virtually picks itself already. The new coach will have his own ideas about formations and styles of play but having watched the majority of this season's C-League matches, the following team line-up is my take on the best eleven that the national team coach can field (with club and age in brackets):
Samreth Seiha (Army, 20)
Lay Raksmey (Preah Khan, 21)
Sun Sovanrithy (Naga, 23)
Tieng Tiny
(PPCrown, 24)
Sok Rithy
(Preah Khan, 19)
Chhun Sothearath (BBU, 20)
Sun Sopanha
(PPCrown, 23)
Keo Sokngorn
(PPCrown, 18)
Khuon Laboravy
(Preah Khan, 21)
Kuoch Sokumpheak (Khemara, 23)
Khim Borey (Army, 20).

Samreth Seiha and Sou Yaty are easily the two best goalkeepers in the C-League and they both play for the Army, though Seiha gets my nod by a whisker. In Raksmey and Sovanrithy, the team have two full-backs who love to gallop forward, and Sovanrithy is equally effective in midfield. Tieng Tiny (pictured) is head and shoulders the best defender in the C-League and Sok Rithy has recovered from injury but needs to cut out playing the ball out of defence and just hoof it away. Sothearath and Sopanha have both had great seasons and are similar in style, so I'd have them patrolling the middle of the park and keeping it tight. That would enable Laboravy to push forward down the left with Keo Sokngorn given a free role to wander wherever he likes. In attack both Sokumpheak and Borey know where the goal is, they have tremendous experience despite their tender ages and they also work their butts off. No surprises in my selection as these eleven players are the best the C-League has to offer. There are one or two others who could argue their way into the line-up but in my opinion, this is the best starting team that Cambodia can put out.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Random snaps

The Crown supporters came out in force yesterday with t-shirts, flags, horns, banners and loud voices
To finish off the action and events of yesterday's Metfone C-League championship final, won 4-3 by Phnom Penh Crown over Preah Khan Reach, here are a few snaps taken during the afternoon. One picture I didn't take was of the new national team coach, Lee Tae-Hoon, from South Korea. He arrived in Phnom Penh on Friday evening and attended the game yesterday but he didn't hang around afterwards, so I didn't manage to get a picture. At least he saw the cup final before the season came to a close and will now have just over a month and a half to prepare for the AFF Suzuki Cup qualifying games that will take place in Laos. Between 16-24 October, Cambodia will battle with Laos, Philippines and Timor Leste for two spots in the finals, to be held in Indonesia and Vietnam in December. I've been told that a training squad of players will be making their way to Vietnam, where the new coach can get his first look up close with the players who've been selected for him by his assistant coaches and by recommendations from the CPL teams. I asked a federation official whether the new coach would be holding a press conference, even though he doesn't speak Khmer or English, but nothing has been arranged as yet. I await further developments with the national team with interest. The 6-month season has just finished and now the players have to prove themselves all over again to the new coach, who I hope has been taking advantage of available technology and watching videos of the national team and club teams, which are taken at every game. I'll ask him that if I get the chance...maybe in Korean!
Leading the cheerleading was suspended striker Uche Prince Justine, who is seen here running around the stand holding aloft a flag and blowing a horn
Hong Makara came on as a sub for Crown and netted their important 3rd goal
Crown celebrate their win immediately after the final whistle
In front of the cameras, Crown's coach Apisit Amphai and manager Be Makara
Crown defender Tieng Tiny relaxes on the bench before returning to the festivities
Dejected and inconsolable, the Preah Khan players await their medals
A military band brought colour and music to the awards ceremony
Tieng Tiny introduces his daughter to the spotlight, his medal and the national anthem
More joy for the Crown squad as they celebrate with the championship trophy, held aloft by Keo Sokngorn
Thought it would be nice to end with these two lovely ladies who provide cold bottled water to the teams and officials at every match. They are a god-send.

The other winners

Joy unrestrained for Phnom Penh Crown. LtoR; Saidu, Nwakuna, Justine and Mpoko
Whilst Phnom Penh Crown collected the Metfone C-League trophy and the double cash prize as champions and 4th place league finishers of 54 million riels, every team in the C-League got in on the money with even relegated Wat Phnom and Chhma Khamo received 20 million riels apiece. BBU netted a cool 42 million as the 3rd place team (following their penalty success against Naga on Friday) as well as receiving the Fair Play award. 18-year-old Keo Sokngorn added the season's best player award to his championship winners medal, whilst his national teammate Sou Yaty, from Ministry of National Defense, picked up the best goalkeeper award. Top coach of the year went to Rith Dakar, who'd led his Preah Khan Reach team to the final as well as 3rd place in the regular league season. There was no catching Julius Ononiwu, who leapt to the top of the goalscorer's chart a few weeks ago and collected his Golden Boot award for his 25 goals for Kirivong Sok Sen Chey. One of the first to congratulate him was last season's award winner Prince Justine, who missed out on the final due to suspension. Last but not least the best refereeing team award went to Thong Chankeytha, Kuong Ly, Kimsy Pisal and Tuy Vichheka, who all participated in yesterday's final, and collect 4 million riels between them.
Golden Boot winner with 25 goals, Kirivong's Julius Ononiwu
Preah Khan's young coach Rith Dikar collected the best coach award
BBU had a successful season and collected 42 million riels to show for it
The Army goalkeeper Sou Yaty, who collected the best keeper award
Saturday's match officials were awarded the best refereeing team accolade. LtoR: Kuong Ly, Thong Chankeytha,Tuy Vichheka and Kimsy Pisal.

Sokngorn's success

Keo Sokngorn, 2 goals in the final and the best player of the season award
One young man will certainly remember yesterday's championship-deciding play-off final at Olympic Stadium, even though he's already enjoyed considerable success as a teenager. Keo Sokngorn is the wonder-kid of Cambodian football. He has a great talent and can display his skills for Phnom Penh Crown and the Cambodia national team in midfield or up front with equal prowess. Yesterday he scored two of Crown's goals in their 4-3 success over Preah Khan Reach, including a tap-in two minutes from full-time that turned out to be the winner. His first was a cool-as-you-like penalty with a two-step run up to level the game after Preah Khan had taken an early lead. Sokngorn not only collected his winners medal but the best player of the season award, and 2 million riels, to cement his stature as the best of the homegrown talent on display in the Metfone C-League. Add the fact that he's a likeable 18-year-old with his head screwed on and you just about have the perfect package. Fresh from this season's successes, he's sure to play a key part in the national team's important Suzuki Cup matches in Laos in October under new South Korean coach Seijin Yeo.
Keo Sokngorn receiving his 2 million riel award as the season's best player
Keo Sokngorn holds a shirt saying Samnang = Lucky as he steps up to the podium
FFC President Sao Sokha adorns Keo Sokngorn (10) with his championship medal
Keo Sokngorn and the championship trophy, with his strike partner, Prince Justine looking on
The television cameras catch up with the teenager at the end of the presentations

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Cup Final fever

Crown skipper Thul Sothearith receives the Metfone trophy from FFC President Sao Sokha with his jubilant teammates looking on
A scorching sun overhead, suspensions affecting the line-ups, even changes to both teams because of warm-up injuries and fitness test failures, as well as the appearance of the new national team coach for the first time, today's Metfone C-League championship play-off final had it all, even before it kicked-off. Add to that mix, the big crowds brought by both teams, resplendent in their club colours and t-shirts, horns, flags and banners, the expectation of a Phnom Penh Crown win and the determination of the military police side, Preah Khan Reach not to buckle under the pressure, and kick-off was eagerly awaited. Within 7 minutes of the start PKR had the ball in the net and must've had thoughts of an upset. Khuon Laboravy used his head instead of his left foot to get on the end of Suon Thuon's centre and the bounce beat the ineffectual dive of keeper Peng Bunchhay to silence one half of the stadium, whilst the other half erupted. Ten minutes later and Crown levelled when referee Thong Chankethya awarded a pretty dubious penalty for a push on Hong Ratana by Moul Daravorn, and up stepped cool-as-a-cucumber Keo Sokngorn to whip his spot-kick past Ouk Mic. With both teams employing just one solo striker, PKR edged ahead again on 34 minutes. A Thuon free-kick was cleared by Sani Saidu to the edge of the penalty area where Tum Saray, controlled the ball, shimmied and then curled a beauty of a shot over Bunchhay's flailing arms to send Preah Khan's fans into more raptures. A few minutes later Saray was booked for falling over Tieng Tiny's legs in the box, though it looked like a penalty to me and with Bunchhay producing two one-handed saves to deny Devide Njoku and Laboravy, PKR remained ahead at the break.
PKR bolstered their attack with the introduction of Sam El Nasa, a surprise starting omission, just after the break but it was Crown who drew first blood when Srey Veasna fired past Ouk Mic from fifteen yards after Suon Thuon failed to clear a Sun Sopanha cross, just eight minutes into the 2nd half. Olisa Onyemerea, in the starting line-up in place of the suspended Prince Justine, was using his strength to harry the PKR defenders and with 9 minutes left on the clock, his brutish run was halted but the ball fell to Srey Veasna, who whipped another shot goalwards. The upright kept his shot out but the ball fell invitingly at the feet of Hong Makara, who whacked it past Ouk Mic to put Crown in front for the first time. With 2 minutes to go, Veasna sent Makara away on the left and his low cross was food and drink to Keo Sokngorn, who tapped home for his second and Crown's 4th. It was all over bar the shouting. That is until the 4th minute of added-on time when Sam El Nasa nodded in Khuon Laboravy's pinpoint cross, only for referee Chankethya to blow his final whistle moments later. 4-3 to Crown, their players mobbed the coaching staff and vice versa, everyone, including the suspended Prince Justine, who was seen running through the main stand holding a Crown flag aloft, had a smile from ear to ear and the party could begin.
The scoreline reflected the tightness of the match itself. It wasn't a classic but it was touch and go and a draw (and penalties) had looked on the cards until Crown's late burst. They just about deserved it, but only just, which will be little consolation to Preah Khan, who sat on the pitch, dejected whilst the Crown players and staff danced and sang their way towards the medal ceremony. Crown picked up the trophy and a cheque for 54 million riel, while Keo Sokngorn also netted 2 million as the season's best player. The Army's Sou Yaty collected the best goalkeeping award, Preah Khan's Rith Dakar was named top coach, Julius Ononiwu from Kirivong topped the goalscoring charts with 25 goals and BBU earned the Fair Play trophy. That about wrapped it up as Phnom Penh Crown continued to bask in the glory of their championship success.
The Phnom Penh Crown starting line-up for today's C-League play-off final. LtoR (back) Tiny, Saidu, Dara, Veasna, Onyemerea, Nwakuna, (front), Sokngorn, Sopanha, Bunchhay, Ratana, Sothearith.
Preah Khan Reach pose before the final begins. LtoR (back) Njoku, Daravorn, Thuon, Laboravy, Rithy, Mic, (front), Samnang, Veasna, Saray, Narith, PM Udom.
The match officials line up with the two captains, PKR's Ouk Mic (yellow) and Crown's Thul Sothearith (blue)
It's time for celebrations to begin with Crown manager Makara Be (white shirt) joining in
This time team manager Makara Be is the celebration, as he's lofted high by the Crown players
The Crown players milk the celebrations for their own enjoyment and camera snaps

Crown are crowned champions

PPCrown celebrate their championship success this afternoon
Phnom Penh Crown achieved what everyone expected them to, by beating Preah Khan Reach 4-3 in today's Metfone C-League championship decider at the Olympic Stadium, though they did it the hard way by going behind twice before two goals in the last ten minutes finally sealed their capture of the gold trophy. Their celebrations went on long and loud and was a double celebration for their teenage star Keo Sokngorn, who not only grabbed a couple of goals in today's final, but also picked up the best player of the season cup to boot. Srey Veasna and Hong Makara netted the other two Crown goals whilst Khuon Laboravy, Tum Saray and Sam El Nasa scored for PKR. More on today's final a little later.

Friday, August 20, 2010

BBU grab 3rd

BBU's Tuy Sam decided the penalty kick competition after the normal time 3rd place play-off ended 2-2
The Metfone C-League third place play-off decider today went down to the wire with Build Bright United grabbing the glory and the extra cash, with a 5-3 penalty-kick success over Naga Corp. Though Naga shaded the game in normal time, BBU had two great chances to win the game at the death, fluffed them both but then came good in the spot-kick shoot-out. The game had ended 2-2 at the full-time whistle. The glory of the winning penalty kick went to full-back Tuy Sam, who was mobbed by his teammates after he successfully converted past Mak Theara in the Naga goal. All of the goals in normal time came in the first-half. Oum Chandara poked BBU ahead from about a yard after just three minutes as Naga failed to clear a corner. The game's best player, Joseph Oyewole levelled on 25 minutes when he stole in unnoticed to powerfully head home from Tiet Chandarasokha's cross. When Nhim Sovannara handled Teab Vathanak's shot, referee Khuon Virak waved play on until he spotted Yien Kivatanak's raised flag and decided to award a penalty afterall. Meas Channa made the most of the referee's change of mind a minute before time, from the spot. In time added on, BBU substitute Nuth Sinoun netted a fine solo goal to equalize, when he kept his cool to roll the ball under the advancing Mak Theara. The second half was devoid of much goalmouth activity, especially for Naga's Teab Vathanak who was starved of chances to add to his 21-goal tally. BBU did miss a couple of guilt-edged opportunities in the closing seconds but weren't left to rue them for too long, with their success in the spot-kick competition. Eight of the 9 penalties taken were scored and it was Meas Channa, who scored a penalty in normal time, who had his spot-kick saved by Sos Proshim, right at the start of sudden-death. Nuth Sinoun, Prum Putsethy, Chan Veasna, Oum Chandara and Tuy Sam netted from the spot for BBU, with Joseph Oyewole, Pok Chanthan and Soeung Monyroath scoring for Naga. It was tough on Naga, who won the regular season league competition with just 1 defeat in 18 games but for BBU, finishing third capped a great campaign for the students. Now all eyes will turn to Saturday's play-off final at 2pm with PKR aiming to overturn the pundit's prediction of a Phnom Penh Crown victory. We shall see.
The students of BBU won the game 5-3 on penalties after a 2-2 draw
Naga Corp were missing 2 players with suspension but only had themselves to blame for the penalty-kick defeat by BBU
Not exactly one of the greatest toss-ups of our time, as ref Khuon Virak waits to catch his coin, watched by the team captains
The teams take to the Olympic Stadium pitch in today's 3rd place play-off. BBU are in blue.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Who will make the difference?

The championship play-off final for the 2010 Metfone C-League title will take place at Olympic Stadium at 2pm this coming Saturday. Of the two teams - Preah Khan Reach and Phnom Penh Crown - which side will have the players who can make the difference? In my opinion, having watched the majority of the C-League games this season, on their day, Crown can beat anyone, and usually do. However, they do get caught with their pants down occasionally. With talented players like teenager Keo Sokngorn (left) in their line-up, Crown should beat Preah Khan in Saturday's final. Sokngorn has been the wonder-boy of Cambodian football for the last two years and deserves the accolade, though there are others waiting in the wings to pinch his crown. Alongside him in the Crown line-up, are players who can also turn the game in a flash and the obvious one is last year's Golden Boot winner Uche Prince Justine, with 17 goals this season he's behind Julius Ononiwu and Teab Vathanak, but is still a real danger if he gets a head of steam up. However, two yellow cards means a 1-game suspension, so his place will be taken by Olisa Onyemerea for the final. In midfield, they have Sun Sopanha, who scored with two glorious free-kicks in the semi-final and looks odds-on to get a starting place in the next national team. And rock-solid in defense are man-mountain Sani Saidu and the best Khmer defender in the league, Tieng Tiny. Crown's weakest spot can be their goalkeeper Peng Bunchhay, who has more bad games than good.
The two men who can win the game for Preah Khan, if Crown are having an off day, are Khuon Laboravy, with the best left foot in the league, and the perennial warrior Sam El Nasa. Both players know where the goal is, though Laboravy is likely to miss half a dozen before hitting a sweet one. They are pretty good defensively with 3 national players in their back-four, as well as another giant defender, Anthony Nzekwest. On the bench will be the new wonder-boy-in-waiting, Chan Vathanaka, who could make the difference if he gets the chance. However, unless Crown have a real bad day at the office, I don't see PKR pulling this one off.

3rd place up for grabs

The fall-out from the weekend's Metfone C-league semi-finals is that Naga will meet Build Bright on Friday afternoon, 3.30pm at Olympic Stadium, to decide who gets the 3rd place finish. Naga won the title last year and finished top of the table during the regular season but their 4-2 defeat by Phnom Penh Crown on Sunday has relegated them to a best-possible 3rd place. BBU, who lost out to Preah Khan 2-1 on Saturday, will be looking to recapture their fine league form which saw them end up in second spot. Naga will be without their skipper Sun Sovanrithy who was dismissed in the semi, but they will have goal-poacher Teab Vathanak (above) looking to add to his tally and even catch the Golden Boot winner-in-waiting Julius Ononiwu, though he'll have to score 4 goals to manage it. Meanwhile, BBU will look to the striking duo of Nuth Sinoun and Nelson Oladiji to fire them into third place. I won't be able to get to the game on Friday but I will forecast the winner - and Naga Corp get my vote.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sopanha sends Crown through to final

Phnom Penh Crown are as pleased as punch with their 4-2 semi-final win over Naga Corp
The David Beckham of Cambodian football, Sun Sopanha, who scored with two free-kick goals in today's semi-final
Sun Sopanha demonstrated his prowess from dead-ball situations to guide Phnom Penh Crown into next weekend's Metfone C-League play-off final. Their hard-fought 4-2 win over Naga was a great advert for the C-League in front of a big crowd at Olympic Stadium this afternoon. The game had a bit of everything thrown into the mix. Crown led 3-nil at the half-time interval and should've killed Naga off, but they "lost concentration after half-time" in the words of their manager Makara Be, and nearly paid a heavy price. Naga pulled back two goals and struck the woodwork but couldn't find the all-important leveller. Crown wrapped up the victory three minutes from the end although there was still time for Naga skipper Sun Sovanrithy to see the red mist and a resultant red card. Both casino-backed teams lined up at full strength, with Sok Pheng getting the nod up front for Crown instead of Nigerian Olisa Onyemerea, and it was Crown who got their noses in front on 20 minutes. Srey Veasna's high and hopeful ball into the area rebounded off the cross-bar and straight onto the head of Uche Prince Justine, who nodded it in from six yards with keeper Mak Theara floundering. Three minutes later and Sun Sopanha fired a free-kick as straight as an arrow past Theara from the edge of the box after Justine had been fouled. 5 minutes before the break and Justine turned provider with a neat pass to Sok Pheng who cleverly slipped his shot under the advancing Theara and Crown were three goals to the good at the interval.
A change of positions for Naga skipper Sun Sovanrithy into midfield gave his team a new sense of urgency and it worked immediately. Four minutes into the 2nd half and Meas Channa's quick corner kick caught Crown flat-footed and Joseph Oyewole headed in umarked. 5 minutes later and Sovanrithy despatched a penalty past Peng Bunchhay to narrow the gap still further. Thul Sothearith was adjudged to have pushed Teab Vathanak even though referee Sreng Haody was 30 yards away, but Vathanak has a knack of getting these decisions. Two deep Meas Channa crosses had Bunchhay scrambling , pushing one over the top but missing the second one completely, and breathing a sigh of relief when it hit the upright and was cleared to safety. At the other end Prince Justine went on a dazzling 60 yard run but his low drive was saved by Mak Theara and he picked up a booking soon after as he got further frustrated. His was one of 9 bookings in the game. Sun Sopanha finally finished off Naga's bluster when he curled in a 25 yard free-kick that went in off the post, three minutes from time to confirm his man of the match award. Just as the board with 5 minutes added on time was held up, Sovanrithy was booked twice in under a minute, for fouls on Tieng Tiny and Friday Nwakuna and was sent for an early bath. To be honest I was amazed the referee had waited that long to caution him as he'd kicked Crown players all game long without being warned. The healthy crowd of 8,000 (don't ever believe the attendance figures) had witnessed an exciting semi-final and the expert pundit that I am, got both finalists right in my pre-match predictions. Oh by the way, the new South Korean coach of the national team has still not arrived in Cambodia. Let's hope he can make it before next Saturday's championship-deciding play-off between Preah Khan and PPCrown. It's the least we can expect from the new man in charge of the nation's football future.
Phnom Penh Crown, the pundits choice to win the title. LtoR; (back row) Saidu, Veasna, Pheng, Tiny, Nwakuna, Justine, (front) Dara, Sokngorn, Bunchhay, Sopanha, Sothearith.
Naga finished on top of the league table in the regular season but lost out 4-2 to Crown in today's semi-final
A slice of one-upmanship by Naga's Sun Sovanrithy, presenting Crown skipper Thul Sothearith with a Naga pennant before kick-off
Phnom Penh Crown were this disorganized at the beginning of the 2nd half, when they conceded 2 goals
Crown boss Makara Be and striker Prince Justine face the press after the final whistle. Justine scored a goal but left the field in tears when substituted near the end of the game.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

PKR slosh their way to the final

'Thank god that's over' is the expression on the faces of PKR's (LtoR) Khuon Laboravy, Ouk Mic and Sam El Nasa
The successful Preah Khan team line-up before their 2-1 semi-final success over BBU. LtoR (back row) Chanrasmey, Mic, Njoku, Nzekwest, Rithy, Laboravy, (front) Veasna, Samnang, Raksmey, El Nasa, Narith.
Neither coach sprang any surprise in their team selections for the first of the Metfone C-League semi-finals at Olympic Stadium today. Both Preah Khan and BBU have operated this season selecting from a pool of 14 players with youngsters making up the numbers. The two teams began the game with two Nigerians apiece and it was PKR's lanky midfielder Devide Njoku who drew first blood with less than 2 minutes on the clock. BBU keeper Sos Proshim made a complete hash of a routine catch and as Rim Bunhieng cleared his line, he fired the ball against the shins of Njoku who celebrated as though he meant it. PKR had their noses in front and that just about summed up the first-half, with PKR shading the possession. Each side had half chances without really troubling either goalkeeper before lightning and heavy rains struck 20 minutes into the game. With 4 minutes left of the opening half, PKR increased their advantage when a San Narith free-kick skidded off the head of BBU defender Nhim Sovanara and crept inside the far corner for an own goal. Within a minute, BBU had reduced the deficit when Chhun Sothearath curled a measured shot past Ouk Mic from the edge of the area, but that was as good as it got for BBU. The heavy rain made a mockery of the second half, which should never have been played in my opinion. Surface water made passing an impossible skill and the game deteriorated into kick and rush football with no finesse whatsoever. The crowd loved the slapstick it produced but football was at a premium and the semi-final spectacle suffered for it. Ouk Mic produced a classy flying one-handed punch to safety from Oum Chandara's drive and Augustine Ogbni had a header disallowed for a negligible offside but that was all BBU had to show for their efforts whilst PKR remained strong and resolute without offering too much offensively in the second period. But their celebrations at the end were a reminder of exactly how much it meant to them to reach next week's C-League play-off final.
Plucky BBU just couldn't find a cutting edge to beat Preah Khan in today's semi-final. They will now play for 3rd place in next Friday's decider.
Preah Khan's Devide Njoku is as pleased as punch with his 2nd minute goal
Sam El Nasa leads out the Preah Khan team in red strip at Olympic Stadium
Sam El Nasa (red) can't bear to look at referee Thong Chankethya's toss-up. He's seen it all before. The ref only booked 5 players today - is that a record?
PKR coach Rith Dikar getting all hot under the collar thinking ahead to next week's play-off final
The horn-blowing youngsters from Preah Khan Reach made themselves heard for most of the semi-final clash despite the incessant rain and lightning this afternoon