Thursday, March 31, 2011

The big kick-off

New signing Kingsley Njoku set to make his league debut for Phnom Penh Crown (pic Nick Sells)
As many as eight new players will be making their Metfone C-League debut for reigning champions Phnom Penh Crown when they kick-off the new season against their arch-rivals Preah Khan Reach in the fixture everyone wants to see, at 3pm this coming Saturday. The season's long-awaited opener will see a host of new faces for Crown, who've added no less than a dozen signings to their squad after a break-up of last season's successful championship-winning team. With new coach, Croatian-born Bojan Hodak now at the helm, and an unexpected quarter-final defeat in the pre-season Hun Sen Cup competition still rankling, Crown will want to stamp their authority from the off, and what better way than to beat the pretenders to their throne, the eventual cup winners, Preah Khan. With the Military Police-backed outfit looking to give youth its head this season, alongside the veteran faces of Ouk Mic and Sam El Nasa, Crown have instead turned to some of the Kingdom's most accomplished players to steer their path to re-capturing their league title. With top-drawer signings in the shape of striker Kouch Sokumpheak, defender Sun Sovannrithy and play-anywhere San Narith, Crown have staked their claim on the shoulders of the tried and tested, as well as adding three Nigerian imports to the mix, including Kingsley Njoku from Singaporean football, who looks destined to repeat the feats of Crown's leading scorer last term, Prince Justine, now plying his trade in Thailand. With just five teams in the C-League looking to use foreigners in their line-ups this season, the competition is set to have a much more local flavour to it and with Preah Khan relying heavily on homegrown youth, the season's opening match on Saturday is poised to provide an early inkling as to which direction the title will be heading. Crown coach Hodak will be missing winger Chim Rathanak, out with a tear in a leg muscle, while Sun Sopanha is also doubtful after picking up a knock playing for Cambodia in the AFC Challenge Cup last week against Kyrgyzstan. For PKR, coach Rith Dikar will be hoping Khuon Laboravy can maintain his golden touch in front of goal, after top-scoring with 22 goals during their team's collection of the Hun Sen Cup. With only 1 game on Saturday, the C-League's opening week 1 - which was swapped with week 9 just a few days ago by the football federation in an effort to start the season with a bang - Naga Corp will meet National Police in Sunday's top game of two, Kirivong facing Prek Pra in the other, whilst next Wednesday, BBU versus play-off winners Chhlam Samuth and new boys Rithisen against Army will provide the early season action.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Plum draw

The draw for the opening stages of the 2014 FIFA World Cup has been made in Kuala Lumpur this afternoon. It's the first qualifying round of the Asian region of the competition and Cambodia have been drawn home and away against our neighbours from Laos. There are 16 teams in the 1st qualifying round and the matches will be played, in Phnom Penh on 29 June, and in Vientiane on 3 July. On paper, according to the FIFA rankings, then Cambodia at 154th will have too much for Laos at 170th, but believe me, that won't be the case. Laos will be an extremely difficult opponent but the promise of a two-legged match against China in Round 2 will be a prize that should see both teams busting a proverbial gut to get through. China are the 76th ranked team in the world and the 5th best in Asia, so that would be a plum tie to get, with matches on 23 and 28 July. The games against Laos will be held during the mid-season break for the Metfone C-League which kicks-off this coming Saturday. The last meeting between the two countries was a goal-less draw in the Suzuki Cup in Vientiane in October last year.

Federation chicanery

It's hard to find the right words to describe the level of chicanery and jiggery-pokery unveiled by the football federation of Cambodia yesterday. Just 5 days before the start of the new Metfone C-League season, and only a week after the season's fixtures were announced, the federation have decided to re-design the opening set of games, week 1, as they call it. There was already a whiff of artificiality in the fixtures, which had paired Phnom Penh Crown and Preah Khan in the final game of the first half of the season, and then the very last match of the campaign. These two teams are expected to be the League's frontrunners this season, with Crown the reigning champions and Preah Khan having just won the Hun Sen Cup competition. With all ten C-League teams already well into planning their week 1 matches, tactically preparing their teams to face their known opponents, the federation informed them yesterday that they'd arbitrarily changed all of the week 1 matches. In their place they were substituting week 9 with week 1. So instead of Saturday's opening match between Phnom Penh Crown and Naga Corp, the federation have decided that the season opener should now be between Crown and Preah Khan (3pm), with all the other teams following suit and changing their opponents too. Mind-boggling is one way of describing it. The primitive way in which the federation's administrators run their domestic competition makes a mockery of the etiquette of football. I can't believe that any other FIFA recognized country would be quite so blatant in their wanton disregard for the most fundamental set of principles on how to administer a national league competition. My flabber is well and truly gasted.

The revised fixtures for week 1 are now:
Sat 2 Apr : Phnom Penh Crown v Preah Khan Reach (3pm)
Sun 3 Apr: Naga Corp v National Police (2pm)
Kiriviong v Prek Pra (4pm)
Wed 6 Apr: Army v Rithisen (2pm)
BBU v Chhlam Samuth (4pm)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Cheats don't prosper

Age-cheating has been taking place for many years in Asian football, especially in age group tournaments. For example random testing at past FIFA U-17 tournaments showed approximately 30% of players were deemed to be overage, so it wasn't purely an Asian problem. However, in Asia, passports are deemed unreliable (birth certificates are often unavailable), so the football authorities have gone more hi-tech and introduced MIR scans to determine age. In 2007 the Asian Football Confederation began MRI scanning after concluding that an MRI scan showing grade 6 (complete fusion of radial bone growth plate), means that the player is deemed to be older than 17 years of age with a certainty of more than 99%. Thus this test was introduced for AFC U-16 tournaments and in the first year, 10 out of 437 MRI scans showed complete fusion of the radial bone, meaning the player was overage. Sanctions were applied. In 2010 not one player was deemed overage. Congratulations to the AFC for their efforts to fight this unfair practice that had plagued Asian football for so long. I must admit to be consistently surprised at the age of some of the Cambodian players playing in the C-League over the past few seasons, but without MRI scans to counteract their age claims, we'll have to accept their ages at face value.

World Cup & C-League fever

Tomorrow (Wednesday) Cambodia will get to hear who they meet in the 1st qualifying round of the Asian section of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. 43 Asian countries are vying for the four automatic places in the finals. Cambodia, as one of the 16 lowest ranked teams in Asia, will be in one of eight two-team groups for home and away matches on 29 June and 3 July this year. Eight winners from the 1st round will join 22 higher ranked teams in round 2, again with home and away matches on 23 and 28 July. Cambodia will be hoping to reach Round 2 at least. The 16 teams, with their Asian World Cup ranking, are as follows: 28. Malaysia, 29. Afghanistan, Cambodia, 31. Nepal, 32. Bangladesh, 33. Sri Lanka, Vietnam, 35. Mongolia, 36. Pakistan, 37. Palestine, 38. Timor Leste, 39. Macau, 40. Chinese Taipei, Myanmar, 42. Laos, Philippines.
Yes, you read it right, Cambodia are ranked higher than Vietnam and Philippines. The former is a quirk of the ranking system, whilst the Philippines, who reached the semis of the Suzuki Cup in December and then last week progressed to the AFC Challenge Cup finals with a 3-0 win over Bangladesh, believe they may well draw Cambodia in the World Cup qualifiers. We shall see. The 1st round of the World Cup qualifiers falls during the mid-season break in the Metfone C-League, which is handy, though leaves little time for preparation of the national squad.

Talking of the C-League, it all kicks-off again this coming Saturday (2 April) when Phnom Penh Crown meet Naga Corp in the season's opening fixture at the Olympic Stadium (start 3pm). I'm eagerly awaiting that one. The football federation have changed their minds again and have scrapped the so-called Super 4 Play-offs at the end of the season, preferring instead to stick to the tried and tested first past the finishing post. The C-League were one of only a few leagues in the world who used the play-off system to determine their champions, a practice that I'm vehemently opposed to. FFC spokesperson May Tola said; "We are doing away with the play-offs. The team emerging at the top of the league table [at the end of the season] will get the champions tag." Apparently they bowed to pressure from the clubs themselves. Phnom Penh Crown have seen both sides of the play-off coin, so to speak. In 2009 they topped the league after the regular season but finished 4th in the play-offs. Last season, they flopped to 4th in the league but won the championship via the play-offs. This season they are aiming to be in top spot come the end of the season in early September.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Students well beaten

Crown v BBU: Back Row LtoR: C Dara, Nwafor, Narith, Visokra, Obadin, Sothearith. Front Row: Virak, H Pheng, Sovannrithy, Njoku, Chaya
Phnom Penh Crown warmed up for the start of the Metfone C-League season next week, in more ways than one. Not only did they sizzle in front of goal, especially in the 2nd half, to beat the students from Build Bright United 5-1, but the game descended into chaos when Nuth Sinoun punched Thul Sothearith in the face and Sothearith retaliated. In the melee, the referee called the teams off and then back on again, brandishing the red card to both players. The match had already been a bad-tempered affair especially a tackle by Rim Bunhieng on Kingsley Njoku that would've earned him a court appearance in the UK for GBH. As Njoku lay in a heap following the thigh-high karate kick, Bunhieng walked over to him and kicked him in the shoulder as he lay there. The referee just about managed to show him a yellow card before the BBU bench pulled the deranged defender off the field. Crown began the game like a train and took a 7th minute lead when San Narith's corner deceived everyone as it spun across the six-yard box where Sun Sovannrithy was awake to poke it past the attempted block of Hem Simay. Young recruit Hong Pheng will be kicking himself that he failed to get on the scoresheet in the 1st half. Twice he outfoxed Simay but both times his shot was cleared off the line and a third, a chip, was held by the veteran keeper. Kingsley Njoku was also wasteful, firing a flying bicycle kick just inches high and rolling another chance the wrong side of the post. On 38 minutes, BBU nicked an equalizer when Odion Obadin was adjudged to have handled and Oum Chandara tucked away the penalty kick, sending Hong Visokra the wrong way. There was just enough time for Rim Bunhieng's moment of madness on Njoku before the referee signalled the end of round one.
Njoku and Pheng both had opportunities after the restart, as did Chan Chaya, but Sos Proshim was equal to them in the BBU goal. However, he had no answer as Crown hit the students with a flurry of goals, four in fact, in just 7 minutes. On 69 minutes, Hong Ratana was thwarted by Proshim but Kingsley Njoku picked up the loose ball, took it round four static defenders and walloped the ball under the keeper from ten yards for a great individual goal. Three minutes later, Njoku won a tackle, fired in a low shot which Proshim could only fingertip into the path of Hok Sochivorn, who made no mistake from a few yards out. On 74 minutes, Sochivorn and Ratana combined to set up Sovannrithy who finished with a low drive under Proshim's dive. Chan Chaya completed the rout a couple of minutes later when he powered in a far post header from Njoku's inch-perfect cross. Crown were 5-1 up and coasting.
With just five minutes remaining it all went a bit haywire. Nuth Sinoun punched Thul Sothearith in the cheek, the Crown skipper hit back and a free-for-all ensued. The BBU bench waved their players off, the referee lost the plot before order was restored, the players returned five minutes later and both culprits were given an early bath. The game ended soon after with Crown getting a tinge of revenge for the Hun Sen Cup quarter-final defeat by the students a few weeks earlier, though more importantly, it was the type of game Crown coach Bojan Hodak was looking for before the season opener next Saturday against Naga. Crown line-up: Visokra, Dara, Sovannrithy (Vanthan 85), Obadin, Sothearith, Narith, Nwafor (Narong 45), Chaya (Sophat 90), Virak (Ratana 55), H Pheng (Sochivorn 61), Njoku (Sophanal 85). Subs not used; K Dara, Sovan.
Sun Sovannrithy, two more goals for Crown in his 2nd game
Kingsley Njoku rounds BBU keeper Hem Simay but scuffs his shot inches wide
Chan Chaya during shooting practice with Hok Sochivorn monitoring progress
Head Coach Bojan Hodak's pre-match instructions
The BBU students were focused more on fighting than football

Friday, March 25, 2011

Defeat in thriller

Cambodia line-up: [Back Row LtoR]: Mic, Nasa, Tiny, S Rithy, Pheng, Sopanha. [Front Row]: Rady, Sothearith, Pancharong, Sokumpheak, PM Udom
Cambodia ended their Group C games in the AFC Challenge Cup tonight with a bang, going down 4-3 to the former Russian Republic of Kyrgyzstan. Head coach Lee Tae-Hoon tinkered with his starting line-up again and for this consolation rubber, made five changes from the previous match. The game started badly as usual, with Cambodia allowing their opponents to gain the upper hand with a goal from Aziz Sydykov after just 4 minutes. On the back foot again. A headed goal from Kouch Sokumpheak on 38 minutes looked likely to take the teams in level at the interval until a Rustem Usanov header in time added on gave the Kyrgyz the advantage at the break. Not to be outdone, Sokumpheak stepped up to the mark again, 3 minutes into the 2nd half to level it at 2-2. In what sounds like an intriguing encounter, there was some controversy over the third Kyrgyz goal on 79 minutes by substitute Cholponbek Esenkul and the same player netted again 5 minutes later to put them firmly in front. A Sok Rithy header 2 minutes from time caused some flutters but Cambodia couldn't find a way back and succumbed 4-3 at the final whistle. Cambodia's team: Mic, Rady, Pancharong (T Udom 84), S Rithy, Tiny, Sopanha (Veasna 75), Sothearath, PM Udom, Sokumpheak, Nasa, Pheng (Laboravy 48). Subs not used: Bunchhay, Piseth, C Rithy, Chhoeurn. Attendance: 1,000.
After the match, coach Lee offered these pearls of wisdom to the assembled press. "Compared to the previous two games, we played very well tonight. That's sign of improvement. We had just four days to practice together before travelling to the Maldives. We failed to score in the last two games but tonight we scored, which is good." Can someone remind the coach that he had the players together for months, not days, prior to this competition. Also, you need to score goals to win any game, but if he paid more attention to his team's defending and not conceding early goals, then that would be the starting point. In each of the three games Cambodia gave themselves a mountain to climb by letting in very early goals, something which the coach fails to mention. The Kyrgyz camp had a different take on the game. Murat, their assistant coach said; "We made so many changes for this game. Though we won, we are not happy with the result and the performance. Cambodia tried hard and they scored from every chance they created." Earlier in the evening, hosts Maldives drew 0-0 with Tajikistan to claim top spot in the group on goal difference. Both teams progress through to the finals next year. Cambodia do not.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

New boys on the block Neftchi

Likely to be Phnom Penh Crown's toughest opponents when the AFC President's Cup roadshow comes to Cambodia in May, Neftchi Kochkor-Ata from the former Russian Republic of Kyrgyzstan are essentially a brand new club. They only came into being in their present form in February 2010, just before the start of the six-team Kyrgyz championship campaign. Taking everyone by surprise, they captured the league title by a point to bring to an end the six-year domination of the championship by Dordoi-Dynamo (twice winners of the President's Cup themselves). The Neftchi team, who missed out on the double by losing the cup final to Dordoi-Dynamo 3-0, is composed of players who didn't make it at the other top Kyrgyz teams as well as striker Taalai Dzhumataev, who top scored with 15 goals, having arrived from provincial side Kambar-Ata last year. Their veteran goalkeeper Zakir Djalilov feels that the AFC President’s Cup will give much-needed exposure to their young side. “Our team is still too young and participation in international tournaments will help us gain necessary experience. It’s always good to start with such an important event.” Russian coach Alexander Krestinin’s charges are preparing for the season by taking part in the CIS Cup, where they lost all three matches, and some friendlies. However, they recently defeated the Kyrgyzstan national team 2-0. Neftchi, which translates roughly as 'the Oilers', hail from Kochkor-Ata, a dusty little oil-producing town in Kyrgyzstan's southwest Jalal-Abad province. The Kyrgyz Republic was formed in 1991 upon the break-up of Russia. Crown have previously faced Kyrgyz opponents on two occasions in the AFC President's Cup, meeting Dordoi-Dynamo both times, in 2005 and 2009, losing 6-1 and 3-1 respectively.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Tasting defeat

Cambodia v Tajikistan; Back Row LtoR: Soksana, C Rithy, Bunchhay, S Rithy, Laboravy, Tiny. Front Row: Rady, Sothearath, Veasna, Pancharong, Sokumpheak
Can you adam and eve it? Cambodia went behind to another goal in the 1st minute against Tajikistan tonight in their AFC Challenge Cup Group C tie. Needing a win to have a real chance to stay in the hunt for a place in the finals, Cambodia had a case of deja vu after Maldives scored in the 1st minute of their match two days ago. In their recurring nightmare, Nuriddin Davronov netted from close range for the former Russian republic, who won their first match against Kyrgyzstan. Two more goals in the last ten minutes killed off Cambodia's challenge, as they went down 3-0. Davronjon Ergashev netted after 82 minutes and then Ibragim Rabimov scored a third with a couple of minutes remaining. Cambodia's coach Lee Tae-Hoon made no less than six changes from the starting line-up he chose in the 1st game, as he responded to the dismal showing. However, his new plan didn't work out either as the group favourites always had the upper hand and came on strong as the game wore on. Two defeats in two games leaves Cambodia out of contention, with just a consolation game against Kyrgyzstan to come on Friday. The only player he hasn't used so far is the Army's Thong Udom, so he will definitely get a game in that one. The Cambodia line-up was: Bunchhay, Rady, Pancharong, Tiny, S Rithy, Sothearath (Sopanha 67), Veasna, Soksana (Pheng 56), C Rithy, Laboravy, Sokumpheak (Chhoeurn 77). Subs not used: Mic, Raksmey, Piseth, T Udom, PM Udom, El Nasa. Attendance 550. Earlier in the day, hosts Maldives scored another success with a 2-1 win over the Kyrg team to book their place in the finals.

It's official

Signing on the dotted line for Phnom Penh Crown FC
The Asian Football Confederation take things very seriously. Phnom Penh Crown and the Cambodian Football Federation will host the AFC President's Cup in May and six matches will be played at the Olympic Stadium here in Phnom Penh over a period of five days beginning 21 May. The President's Cup is for AFC's emerging nations and the country champions from Cambodia, obviously, as well as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Kyrgyzstan will meet in Phnom Penh. It's one of the most important football competitions ever to be held here. To prepare for the tournament, all the club officials with Crown must submit a copy of their passport, a copy of their signed contract and any certificates confirming their qualifications, where applicable. They haven't asked for our shoe sizes yet but I'm convinced they will. Hence the picture above is me signing my contract with Crown as their media officer. It's a really exciting time to be associated with the football club as the president and everyone else is committed to upping the professionalism of football in Cambodia, with Crown firmly leading the way in every conceivable fashion, from the senior team to the academy boys to the backroom staff on the touchlines. We've just had confirmation that the two matches that will be played on the three matchdays during the President's Cup competition will kick-off at 2pm and 4pm.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


I really didn't want to hear this from the Maldives camp after they comprehensively dismissed the Cambodian national team in last night's AFC Challenge Cup tie, winning 4-0. The Maldives skipper, star player and hat-trick hero, Ali Ashfaq told the press after the game: "The coach doesn't know much about us. The coach asked before the game, how we wanted to play. We told the coach, we wanted to press and play a pressured game for the first 20 minutes and to score a goal during that period. The plan worked. Now the coach would know our level of football, so he could make a plan for the next games."
The new Maldives coach, Argentinian Diego Cruciani, a former coach of Bangladesh, who's monthly salary and other expenses are paid for by Kuwait, agreed. "You should not congratulate me. All the credit goes to the players. I just had three practice sessions with the players and I don't know them very well. So I asked them before the match, how they want to face the game. They said, coach we want to win the game. We want to play a pressing game in the first few minutes. I told them, yes let's do it! So all the credit goes to them."
Does his salary as the coach go to them to I wonder? Is this player power in action? Maybe Lee Tae-Hoon would do well to ask his players how they wanted to play in the next game against
Tajikistan on Wednesday in the 2nd match of Group C. And then the South Korean FA, who pay Lee's salary, can pass that onto the players. They certainly couldn't do any worse. We have to ask the question how a country of 300,000 fishermen and hotel personnel can so comprehensively beat a Cambodian team (drawn from a population of 14 million) after just three training sessions with their new coach. Lee has been in charge of the national team since August and between the unsuccessful 3-game stint in the Suzuki Cup and qualification for the current competition, he's had almost unrestricted access to his national squad for that whole period, playing a plethora of friendly games, including a 4-1 spanking by a Korean university team, and training sessions. Yet despite all that we arrive in the Maldives without key players, left behind by the coach in a fit of pique, and get another walloping, this time meted out by a team below us in the FIFA rankings. I'm not surprised as we suffered an ignominious loss to one of the region's whipping-boys in Macau as well, only scraping through 5-4 on aggregate. All in all it doesn't add up to carrying great armfuls of optimism into Wednesday's game against the strongest team in Group C from the ex-Russian republic of Tajikistan. I fear the worst. I am equally concerned that we could find ourselves out in the international wilderness with World Cup qualifying matches coming up in the middle of the year, which if we carry on in the same vein, will most likely result in the same disappointment. Cambodia are ranked in 30th place amongst the Asian qualifiers and will know their World Cup opponents on 30 March.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Sunk in the Maldives

Ali Ashfaq nets for Maldives in the 41st minute; he went onto score a hat-trick
A 1st half of woe for the Cambodia national team in Male. Maldives, the home nation in this AFC Challenge Cup Group C qualifying match scored in the 1st and the 41st minute to take a 2-nil lead into the half-time interval, in front of 8,000 spectators. From the live commentary on it looked like the Maldives had most of the ball in the 1st 45 minutes, with Khuon Laboravy finally getting Cambodia's first shot on target in the 39th minute. Maldives took the earliest of leads when Mukhuthar Naseer netted in the opening minute from an acute angle. The worst possible start for Cambodia. With the half-time break approaching, the Maldives, through their influential skipper Ali Ashfaq scored their 2nd goal, leaving Cambodia with a mountain to climb. We did a little better in the 2nd half but two more goals from the talismanic Ali Ashfaq, in the 83rd and 87th minutes left Cambodia to lick their wounds after a 4-0 defeat. The starting line-up for Cambodia: Mic, Raksmey, Pancharong, Piseth, Tiny, Sothearath, Sopanha, PM Udom (C Rithy 74), Laboravy (Chhoeurn 45), Nasa (Pheng 44), Sokumpheak. Unused subs: Bunchhay, Rady, S Rithy, Soksana, T Udom, Veasna. The Group C favourites are Tajikistan and they beat arch-rivals and neighbours Kyrgyzstan 1-0 in the earlier kick-off, with an own goal three minutes from time.
Cambodia's South Korean coach Lee Tae-Hoon admitted his team were well beaten. "The Maldivian side were too good for us. They played superbly today. We have got some very young players and we are gaining experience from these matches. The opponents that we face in these matches are very good and it's a good experience for the players. They would learn from the mistakes they did today and hopefully they would improve in the next game."
Cambodia's starting line-up v Maldives: Back Row LtoR: Mic, PM Udom, Sopanha, Piseth, Tiny, Laboravy. Front Row; Sothearath, Pancharong, Nasa, Sokumpheak, Raksmey.

A tough ask for Cambodia

The Cambodian national team prepare for departure
It pains me to say it but the Cambodian national team will really have their work cut out to progress from their AFC Challenge Cup group matches, that are being staged in Male, in the Maldives this week. On paper the Cambodia team are ranked by FIFA as the 2nd best team in the group in 154th place, though with home advantage I expect Maldives to put in that extra effort when the teams meet later tonight. Maldives are ranked in 161st place and will be no push-overs. The best team in the group are undoubtedly Tajikistan (ranked 148th) and they grabbed third place in the 2010 Challenge Cup competition, so the match against Cambodia on Wednesday (23 Mar) will be a tough ask for our boys. Incidentally, Tajikistan won the competition in 2006 and were runners-up in 2008. The final game on Friday (25 Mar) will be against 174th placed Kyrgyzstan, but they finished in 3rd spot in 2006 and have a good club pedigree in the President's Cup. All 3 of Cambodia's matches begin at 11pm Cambodian time.

In the 2010 qualification group matches for the AFC Challenge Cup, Cambodia went down narrowly to host country Bangladesh (0-1) and Myanmar (0-1) and beat Macau (2-1) but it wasn't enough to get through the group stage. The Maldives also didn't get through their group, held in Male, despite wins over Philippines (3-2) and Bhutan (5-0), as a 3-1 defeat against Turkmenistan was their undoing, on goal difference. The other country to play in the group qualifiers was Kyrgyzstan, who went through courtesy of more goals scored after two drawn matches against Nepal and Palestine. Once they were through to the competition proper, Kyrgyzstan started well with a 2-1 win over India before bowing out with defeats against North Korea (4-0) and Turmenistan (1-0). As for Tajikistan, they were automatic qualifiers for the finals last year, and despite a 2-1 loss to Bangladesh in the opening game, they roared back to beat Sri Lanka 3-1 and Myanmar 3-0 to reach the semi-final. They lost 2-0 to Turkmenistan but did claim 3rd place with a 1-0 win over Myanmar.

Crown's league fixtures

Phnom Penh Crown's Metfone C-League fixtures for 2011 look like this:

Sat 2 Apr v Naga Corp A 3.30pm
Sun 10 Apr v Rithisen A 4.10pm
Sun 1 May v Prek Pra H 4.10pm
Sat 7 May v Chhlam Samuth A 2.10pm
Sat 14 May v BBU H 4.10pm
21-25 May AFC President's Cup
Sun 29 May v Kirivong A 2.10pm
Sat 4 Jun v Army H 4.10pm
Wed 8 Jun v National Police H 3.30pm
Sun 19 Jun v Preah Khan H 2.10pm
Sat 9 Jul v National Police A 2.10pm
Sun 17 Jul v Rithisen H 4pm
Wed 20 Jul v Prek Pra A 3.30pm
Sat 30 Jul v Chhlam Samuth H 4.10pm
Sat 6 Aug v BBU A 2.10pm
Sat 13 Aug v Kirivong H 2.10pm
Sun 21 Aug v Army A 2pm
Sun 28 Aug v Naga Corp H 4pm
Sun 4 Sep v Preah Khan A 3pm

All matches will be played at the National Olympic Stadium at the kick-off times shown.
There will be no end of season play-offs in 2011. The regular season winners of the C-League will be crowned champions. That will please the traditionalists like me.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Community relations

The Academy boys itching to get on the jet-skis
The family of Rithy Samnang (black shirt) hand over a bicycle to the school's best student
The Academy boys from Phnom Penh Crown did their bit for community relations this morning, getting up at 4am and heading south to the Cambodia-Vietnam border at Chrey Thom, on the banks of the Bassac River, to help recognise and reward the students at Sampeau Meas school located in the border town. A few hundred yards from the school stands the Crown Casino and Hotel and the family of Crown president Rithy Samnang offers support to the school each year, with a reward for the best students and gifts for the remainder, totalling some 700 students. The Academy boys were called in to help distribute the gifts and to show the students that there are now opportunities if you excel at sports, as well as highlighting for the Academy boys another facet of their education; giving back. Local officials and the Academy staff of Bouy Dary and Kao Kiry also took part and I went along too, for the ride. As well as the distribution of gifts, everyone at the ceremony got an ice-cream or two, which went down really well, and then the Academy boys returned to the casino property where they were allowed to enjoy the jet-skis and banana boat on the Bassac river, under supervision. They loved it. Following lunch in the casino restaurant, it was back on the bus for the two-hour drive back to the capital. I must say how well-behaved the Academy students are and they've quickly become a real credit to the club. Until a few weeks ago, they could've been sat in the audience awaiting their own gift, but they appreciate the opportunity they've been given and I'm sure will enjoy more occasions like this in the future.
The gifts and the students waiting their turn
The Academy students pass out gifts to the schoolchildren
The schoolchildren acknowledge their gifts
The school students waiting patiently for their gifts and ice-cream
I grab a seat at the back of the group and chat to 14 year old Srey Mom
No rest for the Academy students as they clear up after everyone had left
The banana boat boys getting ready for their adventure
3 boys on each jet-ski; they didn't want to come off
A look at the Bassac River at 7.15 this morning

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The fixtures are out...

...but as they are in Khmer language I need to get them translated before I can tell you what they are! As reigning champions we will kick-off the Metfone C-League 2011 on Saturday 2nd April against one of our biggest rivals Naga Corp at 3.30pm. More later.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Kingsley nets 5

Crown's starting line-up: [Back Row LtoR] Njoku, Narong, Sovannrithy, Visokra, C Dara, Obadin, Chaya [Front Row] Vanthan, Narith, Virak, H Pheng
Kingsley Njoku scored five goals in Phnom Penh Crown's practice match this afternoon, as they strolled to a 10-1 win over Asia Euro University in a one-sided affair at Tuol Kork. Bojan Hodak, Crown's head coach, called it "better than training, but we really need some tough matches to sharpen us up," and likened Njoku's 4th goal in the last minute to something out of the movie Escape to Victory with an Osvaldo Ardiles-type flick over the head of a defender and a neat finish past the goalkeeper. For the record, it's also called a rainbow kick.
Crown led 3-nil at the interval but after that, as the goals rained in, Crown's focus and discipline wasn't maintained, and the university students netted one of three good chances they created. Suong Virak opened the scoring in the 5th minute, Njoku scored his first on 19 minutes and Hong Pheng found the net for the first time in a Crown shirt, four minutes before the break. Five minutes into the 2nd half and Njoku finished off a Virak pass, and six minutes after that Sun Sovannrithy scored in his first game for Crown. Njoku's hat-trick arrived on the hour mark, thanks to Hong Ratana's set-up and the supplier turned goalscorer three minutes later. A few minutes after coming on as a sub, Koem Sophanal scored in the 85th minute, before Njoku grabbed the last two goals, both in the final minute. His 4th was courtesy of that Ardiles' flick after a solo run.
Joining Sovannrithy for his first game in Crown colours was sixteen-year-old goalkeeper Keo Dara who came on for the last eight minutes and made two good saves. Defender Sok Sovan was missing as he's been loaned out to Kompong Cham side Neak Khiev, who were involved in the three-way play-off for the spot in the C-League vacated by the disappearance of cash-less Khemara Keila. Chhlam Samuth, the former Phuchung Neak team, claimed the last remaining spot in this season's C-League with a 3-0 win over Neak Khiev earlier today.
PPCFC line-up:
Visokra (K Dara 82), C Dara (Nwafor 45), Vanthan (Sochivorn 45), Sovannrithy, Obadin; Narith (Sophat 65), Narong, Chaya, Virak (Sophanal 78); Njoku, H Pheng (Ratana 50).
The squad of players from Asia Euro University, who went down 10-1 today

Student friends

Phnom Penh Crown take on the up and coming young student team from the capital-based Asia Euro University at Crown's Tuol Kork training home at 3pm this afternoon. It's a great opportunity for the students to test their mettle against the reigning Cambodian champions, who are keen to get some games under their belt before the new Metfone C-League kicks-off on 2 April. News is filtering through that the C-League will start in April and end in September and due to financial difficultities, Khemara Keila will not take part this year. Which is sad as Khemara have been one of the country's best teams for many years before falling on hard times. A three-way play-off between Chhlam Samuth, Chhma Khmao and Neak Kiev (from Kompong Cham) has been taking place this week to decide who will get the vacant spot, after which I assume the football federation will at last publish this season's fixture list.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Crown add 2 more

Sun Sovannrithy, one of Cambodia's finest players joins Crown
Phnom Penh Crown have made two deadline-day signings to add real quality to their squad ahead of the new Metfone C-League season, which is believed to start on 2 April. They've added Cambodian international defender Sun Sovannrithy to their senior squad from Naga Corp, as well as central midfielder Kenneth Nwafor, who spent last season with Khemara Keila. Crown's Head Coach Bojan Hodak is pleased with the new acquisitions. "Ty is a former national player and he will be again very soon. He can play in a few positions in defense and midfield and I'm happy to get one of the best players in Cambodia to join us for the new season. Kenneth is a young, hardworking and disciplined player, is a good ball winner and is a more defensive-minded midfield player. These two players will give us the extra options that I was looking for."

Twenty-six year old Sun Sovannrithy has been a regular national team player for Cambodia since his debut against Vietnam in the Tiger Cup in Ho Chi Minh City in December 2004. The previous year he made his first appearances for Cambodia's U-17 and U-20 teams and also captained the U-23 team in the SEA Games in Laos in 2009. Born in Phnom Penh, he began his football at Vatanak Vichea primary school before his family relocated to Takhmau and he represented both Takhmau High School as well as the Kandal provincial team for three years in a variety of positions. At 17 years old, he joined the Military Police team, where he played at left-back or striker and soon emerged as one of the country's brightest prospects, gaining his first national team recognition against Philippines at U-17 level in March 2003.

After nearly four years with the Military Police team, Sovannrithy moved to Naga Corp in 2006 and in his four years with the club, won two Cambodian Premier League championship medals in 2007 and 2009, lost in two Hun Sen Cup Finals and also played in the AFC Presidents Cup. A regular fixture in the Cambodia national team since his debut in 2004, he led the U-23 team to success in the BIDC Cup in 2009 but was stopped from appearing for the national team after a domestic sending off whilst playing in the C-League play-offs in August last year and has not played since, until a couple of recent games for Naga in the recently-completed Hun Sen Cup. Asked about his move, Sovannrithy said; "I'm happy to join Crown, they are a good team, I expect them to do well this season and I'll work hard to achieve success for the team. I'm happy to join them as they really wanted me to play and though I was offered a contract to play in Thailand, I'm happy to stay and play my football in Cambodia for Phnom Penh Crown."

Also signing a contract with Phnom Penh Crown today, Nigerian-born central midfielder Kenneth Nwafor is just 18 years old and already has a wealth of experience behind him. Last season he played in the C-League for Khemara Keila and before that was with the Navy team, Phouchung Neak and local amateur team Camafric FC. A native of Enugu State in southeastern Nigeria, Nwafor started his football with the Sapele Football Academy in Delta State, going onto play for Urhapele FC and FC Lonestar Sapele before heading over to Cambodia to continue his football education, like so many of his compatriots. He recently completed a successful trial with Crown including a match against the African All Stars team, for whom he played in two recent matches against the Cambodian national team.
Nigerian-born teenager Kenneth Nwafor signs a contract with Crown

Shock exclusions

The 20-man squad that Cambodia will be taking to the Maldives for the final qualifying group stage of the AFC Challenge Cup has thrown up a couple of shock selections, not least the exclusion of two players who most observers would expect to be in the starting line-up for any of the country's international matches, let alone the three massively important games to be played in less than a week. Cambodia meet Maldives (21 Mar), Tajikistan (23 Mar) and Kyrgyzstan (25 Mar) in Group C of the competition in Male, and I think South Korean coach Lee Tae-Hoon has dropped a massive clanger in not including Phnom Penh Crown's San Narith whilst Sisaket's Khim Borey (pictured) is also missing, and the coach's selection also leaves out Army wideman Phuong Soksana and another Thai-based player, Srey Veasna. Narith has been a versatile midfielder-cum-defensive lynchpin for Cambodia for the last few seasons and is a major surprise to see him cast aside, whilst Borey has recently played his first game for his new Thai Premier Division club and is playing at the highest level of anyone in the Cambodian team. Of course, having just joined a new team puts pressure on Borey to stay and fight for his place in his club's starting line-up but the striker is one of those players who would do everything in his power to play for his country, so I'd like to hear Tae-Hoon's take on it. Soksana has proved to be a good impact player on occasions and Veasna too, had a great season for Phnom Penh Crown last term before his move to Thailand. Instead, Lee Tae-Hoon has picked inexperienced players at this level of competition such as Touch Panhcharong, Chhin Chhoeurn, Thong Udom, Suon Veasna, Sok Pheng and others, in what could be seen as the country's most important series of matches this year. In the local press the coach has been bemoaning his squad's lack of preparation because of the Hun Sen Cup competition which has just ended, and yet on the other hand he's dispensed with the services of San Narith, who is fresh and raring to go after Crown's quarter-final exit from the cup. The full squad is: Ouk Mic, Peng Bunchhay, Pheak Rady, Lay Raksmey, Tieng Tiny, Touch Panhcharong, Say Piseth, Thong Udom, Sok Rithy; Keo Sokngorn, Khuon Laboravy, Chhin Chhoeurn, Chan Rithy, Chhun Sothearath, Prak Mony Udom, Sun Sopanha, Suon Veasna; Kouch Sokumpheak, Sam El Nasa, Sok Pheng.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Match dates confirmed

Following hot on the heels of the AFC President's Cup draw in Kuala Lumpur earlier today, the match dates for Group A (without the kick-off times) have now been confirmed. All the action will take place at the Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh in the week commencing Saturday 21 May. There will be two matches each day on the Saturday, Monday and Wednesday, with the top and 2nd placed teams progressing into the six team final stages. Saturday 21 May
Phnom Penh Crown v Don Bosco Sporting Club (Sri Lanka)
Neftchi Kochkor-Ata v Abahani Limited
Monday 23 May
Don Bosco Sporting Club v Neftchi Kochkor-Ata
Abahani Limited (Bangladesh) v Phnom Penh Crown
Wednesday 25 May
Phnom Penh Crown v Neftchi Kochkor-Ata (Kyrgyzstan)
Abahani Limited v Don Bosco Sports Club

Phnom Penh Crown head coach Bojan Hodak gave this assessment when he heard the AFC President's Cup draw:
"It's a tough group but I am always optimistic. The Kyrgyz team is the main favourite to win the whole tournament as Kyrgyz teams are always strong, tactically and physically. But they will have a problem with the weather as they're not used to the hot and humid conditions. The Bangladesh team is very strong and defensively good, they played last year and never lost a game but unluckily went out on goal difference, while the Sri Lankan team is around about our level. Realistically, we will be in a fight for the second qualifying spot with the Bangladesh team and we will need to win our first game. In order to prepare properly I'd like two weeks or at least ten days without any C-League activity before the matches begin. We will need good preparation with a full squad, free of national team involvement and league action, but we also need competitive matches against strong opponents in the run up to the group games."

Crown at home in President's Cup

Crown's Bouy Dary in Kuala Lumpur today (photo
The draw for the group stages of the 2011 AFC President's Cup was held in Kuala Lumpur this afternoon, and has paired Phnom Penh Crown, the hosts of Group A, with top seeded league champions from Kyrgyzstan, Neftchi Kochkor-Ata, Bangladesh champions Abahani Limited and Sri Lanka’s Don Bosco Sports Club. The matches will take place at the Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh between May 13-31. Confirmation of the match dates will be available in due course. Bouy Dary, Crown's Academy head coach said from Kuala Lumpur; “Kyrgyzstan’s Dordoi won this competition two times but this year the country is represented by a new club which could be better than Dordoi. Neftchi Kochkor-Ata could be one of the two qualifiers from our group but I think we have home advantage which will help us reach the Finals. Bangladesh clubs are also good but we are confident of making it to the finals.”

In the other groups, defending champions Yadanarbon of Myanmar will meet debutants Jabal Al-Mukaber Club of Palestine - the first time ever a club from West Asia is playing in the AFC President’s Cup - and Tajikstan's Istiklol. Also in Group B will be Bhutan champs Yeedzin FC. Nepal Police Club (Nepal), Taiwan Power Company (Chinese Taipei), FC Nebitchi (Turkmenistan) and WAPDA (Pakistan) form Group C, which will be played in Kathmandu, Nepal. The top two teams from each group will qualify for the six-team finals to be played at a venue to be announced at a later date. Qualification to the competition is by clubs from Asian Football Confederation-affiliated countries which fall into the AFC's emerging nations category.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Laboravy - man of the moment

Preah Khan's scorers in the cup final, Sam El Nasa (left) and Khuon Laboravy
The celebrations begin as Preah Khan receive the Hun Sen Cup from Kep Chuktema
I recovered face by predicting the winners of both today's Hun Sen Cup Final and yesterday's 3rd place play-off, but to be honest, it didn't take a genius to work it out. Naga proved that old heads do win trophies, if only it's the third place cheque rather than silverware, whilst Preah Khan Reach proved a bit too strong for the students of BBU today, as predicted. It was left to the competition's leading scorer Khuon Laboravy to fittingly add the final nail in the BBU coffin after Sam El Nasa had given the Military Police-backed side the lead on 35 minutes. El Nasa was johnny-on-the-spot after Sos Proshim spilled a shot from Tum Saray and the national team striker made no mistake from eight yards out. The veteran striker looked certain to have netted a second a minute before the break when Lay Raksmey's pinpoint cross landed on his forehead, but uncharacteristically, he nodded it inches wide and BBU went into the break just a goal down and with a fighting chance. Five minutes into the 2nd half and BBU's best chance came and went when Chan Sokunthina had his shot stopped by Ouk Mic and his follow up shot rebounded off the cross-bar, after that it was all PKR. Most of the offensive action came through Laboravy. He's always a danger on the break, though today he looked a little under-par until the 76th minute when he ghosted into the near post to head in a Prak Mony Udom corner and seal PKR's cup success. It was his 22nd goal of the competition and a well-deserved Golden Boot award awaited him at the final whistle. That was it, bar the shouting and celebrations as referee Thong Chankethya blew for full-time and the first Hun Sen Cup success for the in-form PKR team. Lifting the cup will give them bags of confidence ahead of the new season as the governor of Phnom Penh, Kep Chuktema, handed over the medals, winner's cheque and cup to the winning team.
An unexpected sight was the appearance of Srey Veasna on the pitch for BBU. Last season he played for Phnom Penh Crown before joining Thai third tier team Loei City, so to see him turn up for the cup final and get a game was a surprise to say the least. Presumably, he's broken his contract with Loei (who he played for last week), completed his international transfer certificate and signed-on for BBU before the expiry of the cup registration deadline, which was about two months ago. If he didn't fulfil those criteria there's no way he should've been playing in today's game. If BBU had won, I would've been very interested in what PKR had to say about it.
The PKR starting line-up, 2-nil cup final winners
The students of BBU were found wanting at the final hurdle
Referee Thong Chankethya manages to compete the toss-up without booking anyone
The two fashion-conscious coaches shake hands after the final whistle. Left is Rith Dikar and right is BBU's Meas Sam OeurnMan of the moment and top scorer with 22 goals, Khuon Laboravy, faces the television cameras
PKR's successful coach Rith Dikar answers the press
Another opportunity to celebrate their cup success for PKR

Waiting for news

We should know the draw for the group stages of the AFC President's Cup 2011 on Monday (14 March), as it will take place at 3pm in Kuala Lumpur and the president of Phnom Penh Crown, Rithy Samnang will be present, as his team will be representing Cambodia in the competition. Cambodia have also put their name into the hat as one of the countries wishing to host one of the group series of matches, alongwith Nepal and Myanmar. Teams from 12 member associations – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, Chinese Taipei, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Palestine, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan - will take part in three groups at the initial stage. The top two teams in each group qualify for the six team finals, which were hosted by Myanmar last season. Qualification to the competition is by clubs from Asian Football Confederation-affiliated countries which fall into the AFC's emerging nations category, whilst countries which are considered as mature and developing nations are entered into the AFC Champions League and the AFC Cup respectively.
The teams representing the 12 member countries are as follows:
Kyrgyzstan (Neftchi Kochkor-Ata), Tajikistan (FC Istiklol), Turkmenistan (FC Nebitchi), Bangladesh (Abahani Limited), Pakistan (Wapda FC), Bhutan (Yeedzin FC), Sri Lanka (Don Bosco Sports Club), Chinese Taipei (Taiwan Power Company), Palestine (Jabal Al-Mukaber Club), Cambodia (Phnom Penh Crown FC), Myanmar (Yadanarbon) and Nepal (Nepal Police Club).

Friday, March 11, 2011

Crown's success

PPC line-up; [Back Row, LtR] Narith, Narong, H Pheng, Visokra, Nwafor, Obadin [front] Dara, Virak, Njoku, Chaya, Sothearith
After a loss and a draw against the African All Stars XI in previous meetings, Phnom Penh Crown turned up the heat and recorded a 1-0 success at the third time of asking, in this afternoon's friendly encounter at Tuol Kork. Kingsley Njoku netted the only goal of the match, on 71 minutes from close range and celebrated with a triple somersault. I think someone forgot to tell Kingsley that it was only a friendly and to save the elaborate celebrations for the forthcoming league matches. There was no quarter given in the game, both sides not holding back in the tackle despite the friendly tag given to the match, so Crown can feel pleased that they came out on top against their physically stronger African opponents. It was pretty much all Crown in the first-half with the opposition goalkeeper doing well to block efforts from Chan Chaya and Hong Pheng, whilst Kingsley Njoku headed powerfully over, was brought down by the last man only to see play waved on and then had a headed goal disallowed for offside in the dying moments of the opening half.
The African team came out strongly in the second half and Ande Apollo headed wide before Crown got back on top. Odion Obadin had a header from a corner stopped on the line and a better touch from Hok Sochivorn would've given him a goal instead of sending the ball just past the post. On 71 minutes Crown opened the scoring after Sochivorn and Ratana combined to leave Njoku with a simple tap-in, with which he duly obliged and commenced his acrobatic goal celebration. That was the last of the action, as Crown recorded their first win over the African team. Getting 90 minutes under his belt for Crown was defensive midfield trialist Kenneth Nwafor, 18, who was with Khemara Keila last season and who played for the African All Stars against the Cambodian national team in two friendly games last month, both of which ended in draws. Coach Bojan Hodak decided not to include in the starting line-up, the Crown players who have been training with the national team all week.
Crown line-up: Visokra, Dara (Tiny 83), Narith, Sothearith, Obadin, Narong (Sophat 45), Nwafor, Chaya (Sophanal 81), Virak (Ratana 45), Hong Pheng (Sochivorn 65), Njoku (Sokumpheak 83). Subs not used: Vanthan, Sovan.
A quick post-match chat from coach Bojan Hodak to his Crown players
No wonder the African All Stars were hard to break down; their starting line up had 16 players!Pre-match sprinting exercises
Crown midfield trialist Kenneth Nwafor