Saturday, April 30, 2011

Surprise, surprise

Kirivong gave a good account of themselves against Preah Khan Reach today
More surprises from this afternoon's Metfone C-League games with Preah Khan Reach failing yet again to register their 1st win of the campaign, only drawing 2-2 with Kirivong Sok Sen Che y and to be honest, Kirivong probably just shaded it. However PKR have Khuon Laboravy in their ranks and their best player by a country mile, stepped up to the plate, yet again, to earn them a point, their third in three matches. In the 2nd game, referee Khuon Virak wanted to dominate proceedings and he ended up flashing 3 red cards and 10 yellow cards as the National Police team earned themselves the scalp of a sorry-looking Build Bright United, whose early season promise has well and truly evaporated. Police won 3-1 but Virak did his absolute best to spoil the game and the Federation have got to take a long hard look at their officials, as the boys in black are having way too much impact on games with their willingness to flash the card. I did hear that the clubs get fined for each caution and the money raised goes into the referee's end of season knees-up, or am I just being facetious.

The only event of note in the 1st half of the Preah Khan versus Kirivong encounter was the opening Kirivong goal on 41 minutes. In Vichheka sent Nelson Oladiji racing away and his well-taken drive from the edge of the box stretched the PKR net, as well as their patience as the whole team and head coach claimed the Kirivong striker was yards offside. Referee Tuy Vichhika was having none of it. PKR restored parity just a minute and a half into the 2nd period. Lay Raksmey's floated cross found the head of Khuon Laboravy, but his header struck the foot of the upright only for Tum Saray to turn the rebound over the goal-line. Kirivong refused to lie down and after Oladiji was thwarted by keeper Ouk Mic, he made no mistake on 63 minutes with a tap-in after Vichheka has weaved his way to the byeline and delivered an unmissable opportunity. An accidental clash with his own defender saw Kirivong keeper Khoum Makara stretchered off and within two minutes of his arrival, in the 73rd minute, his replacement Koun Thnou could only divert Laboravy's shot inside the post to make it 2-2. This time it was Kirvong's turn to protest at the absence of an offside flag, but to no avail. Both teams had a chance at the death when Oladiji was again denied by Mic and Prak Mony Udom had time to pick his spot but only managed to find the head of Bryan Edem on the goal-line instead. Laboravy raced clear again well into injury time but the tackle of the game by Touch Sokheng made sure the two teams shared the points.
Referee Tuy Vichhika in full tossing action
Preah Khan Reach managed their third draw in as many games v Kirivong
National Police recorded a 3-1 win despite ending the game with just 9 men
I'd rather not talk about match referees but when they take center-stage like Khuon Virak, it's hard not to. And it's something he's done before. I recall last season, he sent off six players in two games just after the half-way mark in the season. Today it took him just 18 minutes to dismiss Ngoun Chansothea for two bookable offences, a late tackle and a shirt-pull, and then he managed to even it up when BBU's influential skipper Chhun Sothearath lifted his foot to around knee height and incurred the referee's wrath for the second time, getting a 2nd yellow and a red in quick succession. You could almost see the beaming smile on Virak's face. That was two minutes before the interval. At the half-time whistle, Virak had shown 7 yellows and 2 red cards. The National Police were also a goal to the good, when Ieng Tin's fine cross was headed home by skipper Sophal Udom from fifteen yards out six minutes before the break. The 2nd half was less about Virak and more about BBU's lack of thrust and cutting edge, which they'd displayed in abundance in the pre-season Hun Sen Cup competition. The fire in their belly seems to extinguished for the students as they surrendered meekly to the Police. Tith Dina played a sweet pass to Sim Vutha on 67 minutes and he fired under the advancing Hem Simay, and the same player laid a third goal on a plate for Sophal Udom on 75 minutes after outwitting Nhim Sovannara. Despite their clear lead, the Police lost a 2nd player, Ieng Tin, to a second yellow and red combination just three minutes later. With the game petering out, BBU's Prum Putsethy tapped in a low cross from Seng Kosen with three minutes remaining but it was too little too late and BBU trudged off looking forlorn as the Police team, arms aloft, celebrated their continuing success in their 1st season in the top flight.
Has the bubble burst for the students of BBU?
Referee Khuon Virak tells the captains that its his coin, his ball and he's the star of the game, and they'd better not forget it

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

New leaders

Although it's likely to only be for a few days, Metfone C-League newbies Chhlam Samuth head the table after their midweek 3-1 victory over rock-bottom Rithysen at the Olympic Stadium this afternoon. On seven points from their three games, the former Navy team who got into the competition by virtue of a late-in-the-day play-off after Khemara folded, made short shift of fellow newcomers Rithysen from Kompong Chhnang with two goals from Meas Sophana and another from livewire Dauda Sanni (pictured) before a late Rithysen consolation through Peh Mathsaum. This coming weekend, the recently deposed leaders, Army take on Naga in the 1st match on Sunday, whilst Phnom Penh Crown face Prek Pra later the same day. Wins for both the Army and Crown will take them above the Sea Sharks. Sun Sovannrithy will be missing again from the Crown line-up with a knee ligament injury. The two matches on Saturday involve Preah Khan looking to do better against Kirivong, whilst the National Police, another new face on the block, meet BBU, who have started slowly after going great guns in the pre-season cup tournament.

A result!

Result! The matches in Group A of the AFC President's Cup have just received final confirmation from the AFC Competitions Department and all of Phnom Penh Crown's three group matches will kick-off at the later time of 4pm, avoiding the hottest and most humid mid-day weather. Phew, what a relief. It's a small advantage but an important one. The top 2 teams will progress from the four-team group and move onto the six-team finals later in the year, at a location yet to be decided. The Group A tournament matches will all take place at the Olympic Stadium on 21, 23 and 25 May. The early games will all start at 1.30pm and the later ones at 4pm. These are the matches:
21 May: 1.30pm Neftchi (KGZ) v Abahani (BAN): 4pm PPCFC v Don Bosco (SRI)
23 May: 1.30pm Don Bosco (SRI) v Neftchi (KGZ): 4pm Abahani (BAN) v PPCFC
25 May: 1.30pm Abahani (BAN) v Don Bosco (SRI): 4pm PPCFC v Neftchi (KGZ)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Booth no more

The man responsible for taking Khim Borey (pictured) to the Thai Premier League, Englishman David Booth, has been relieved of his duties as coach at Sisaket Muangthai. A string of poor results was too much for the Sisaket owners to stomach and the former Brunei, Myanmar and Laos national team boss, as well as more clubs than Jack Nicklaus in between, has departed. He only joined the Northeast Thai team at the start of the current season and despite signing Borey and a few others, he wasn't able to turn the tide quickly enough. Khim Borey remains on a season-long loan at Sisaket, having joined Phnom Penh Crown from the Army in November but never played a competitive match for the Cambodian champions before his move.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Poetry in motion

The Crown Academy starting XI v HFCA this afternoon
I watched the Phnom Penh Crown Academy boys play a friendly against a bigger, stronger and older team this afternoon and witnessed what I can only describe as a footballing lesson. I have never seen a team of young boys pass the ball so much, almost without thinking, it seemed to come naturally, they found their teammates with ease and carved open their opponents defence almost at will. They ran out 10-3 winners but it could've been much more of a landslide. The opposition came in the form of the Happy Football Cambodia Australia team, who were mainly U14 though their star player, the speedy Chan Sophandara is 15 and it was he who scored a hat-trick to keep them in the game early on. The game was a friendly encounter and an opportunity for all of the Academy boys, 23 in total, and all under 13 years of age, to put into practice what they have been learning on the training ground since they began their Academy life a couple of months ago. They have definitely taken on board what their coaches, Bouy Dary and Kao Kiry, have been instilling into them and looked comfortable on the ball from the first whistle. The match was played in three sections of twenty minutes each, with all of the boys getting good game time. It was the passing that impressed me the most and the team spirit that was so evident. I suppose spending 24 hours every day with each other will do that for a group of youngsters. If this was an example of what can be achieved after just two months together, I am so looking forward to seeing their progress over the coming months and years. For the record, the Crown boys led 2-1, 5-3 and then 10-3 at the end of each period. Ratha Phearom netted a quick-fire hat-trick in the 2nd period, Orn Chanpolin scored twice and there was a goal apiece for Soun Neout, Yue Muslim, Ken Chansopheak, Theam Chhaya and Sath Rozak. Pure poetry from the Crown youngsters.
The older boys from HFCA, who found it impossible to contain the Crown youngsters
The boys who began the game's 2nd period for Crown
A pre-match team-talk from Academy coach Kao Kiry to the boys
Pre-match warm-up under the watchful eye of head coach Bouy Dary
Classroom tactical talk to the Academy boys by head coach Bouy Dary

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Love it

Srey Veasna is collecting clubs like they are going out of fashion. He turned out for Naga Corp today.
I must admit that this afternoon's sole Metfone C-League game of the weekend was the type I enjoy. Lots of talking points, four goals, a stack of yellow and red cards and two defences who for much of the match seemed incapable of stemming the possibility of goals. That we only saw four of them was a big surprise. If there had been some good football on show as well from either Naga or BBU that would've been the icing on the cake, unfortunately, good football was at a premium today. One person out to make a name for himself was referee Lim Bunthoeun. He's new on the block and in his debut game in the middle last week he booked 7 players, whilst today he topped even that by booking eight players and flashing two red cards. However it was the things he didn't do that caught the eye. More on that later. The final score of 2-2 was perhaps fitting though Naga will kick themselves for not taking at least one of two guilt-edged chances they fashioned in the last couple of minutes of the game. It took Naga just 35 seconds from the kick-off to register goal number 1. Chim Sambo rode a tackle, crossed low and hard into the six yard box and Rim Bunhieng miscued his clearance past his own keeper Sos Proshim. It was to sum up the defender's day. On 18 minutes, Naga's Kop Isa raced onto a Pok Chanthan long ball and with the BBU defenders conspicuous by their absence, he deftly dinked the ball over the onrushing Proshim to give Naga a clear two-goal lead. BBU weren't at the races and Nuth Sinoun should've done better when they finally woke up as he blasted a shot wildly over after racing clear on 23 minutes. Before the goal-kick could be taken, Naga keeper Mak Theara was booked for time-wasting. Yes, time-wasting after just 23 minutes. Referee Lim Bunthoeun was to strike many more times in the game.
A minute after the half-hour mark and Nuth Sinoun made amends with a toe-poke goal after the Naga defence decided to go AWOL. His teammate Nhim Sovannara was lucky to stay on the pitch after he brought down Kop Isa on 38 minutes. Keeper Proshim made a hash of a clearance, Isa was in on goal and Sovannara fouled him and must've expected a red card. No such luck, as Bunthoeun dropped a real clanger and only flashed a yellow version. Bad call. As the half-time whistle approached, the referee got another incident badly wrong. He must've missed Rim Bunhieng's kick on Naga's Chea Virath, though he definitely saw Virath's retaliatory strike that nearly floored the BBU defender. As the players joined in the melee, Nuth Sinoun, known for his short fuse, entered the fray with a push. The match official didn't bother to consult anyone, simply waving his red card at Virath and then at Sinoun, forgetting Bunhieng's part in the fracas. The half ended in uproar with BBU moaning the loudest, Bunhieng nursing a swollen eye and Virath menacingly wagging his finger at the BBU bench. With the 2nd half just two minutes old, BBU drew level. Oum Chandara swung his right foot 25 yards out and his shot arrowed into the top corner before Mak Theara could move. The game's finest moment without a doubt.
Naga then introduced Srey Veasna into the action, which had me raising my eyebrows again, as it did when Veasna was employed by BBU for the Hun Sen Cup Final a few weeks ago. The fact that Veasna plays for Loei City in the Thai 2nd Division and then pops over to Cambodia for the odd game or three when he feels like it, seems to fly in the face of FIFA regulations. I can only assume he's not on a contract in Thailand and was registered by Naga weeks before the start of the season, before the registration window closed (which of course he didn't as he was with BBU; I'm being facetious). Can someone at the federation, please explain how a player can play in two countries' national competitions for 3 different teams in the space of a few weeks. I asked him after the game if he was still playing in Thailand and he said he was. As the game wore on, both teams looked knackered, even the BBU keeper had to be replaced with cramp and Naga fluffed two chances, through Chin Chum (thanks to a great stop by substitute Hem Simay) and Kop Isa in the dying moments. And that was it, 2-2 and honours even as 22 players collapsed with exhaustion at the final whistle. I even spotted the national coach taking notes for the 1st time this season, probably working out whether Srey Veasna can get a couple more clubs under his belt before he gets a place in his national squad again.
The Naga starting line-up for today's 2-2 draw
The students of BBU before the game
Referee Lim Bunthoeun with a coin in his hand instead of a yellow or red card
Two of the most recognizable faces at the Olympic Stadium; Hor Ngait and Khim Vuthy (right), the two tv pundits who commentate on each game for TVK

Friday, April 22, 2011

100 riels on BBU

The forgotten match of week 2, round 2, whatever you want to call it, of the Metfone C-League season will take place tomorrow at Olympic Stadium at 3pm. It's between two of the league's better sides, who both, rather surprisingly, went down to defeats in the week 1 fixtures. Build Bright United, beaten Hun Sen Cup finalists in the pre-season knock-out competition, came unstuck against Chhlam Samuth, 3-2, in their opening game of the league campaign and will be looking to put that right against one of the country's historical heavyweights, Naga Corp. They too went down in their 1st match, 2-1 to newly-promoted National Police Commissary. So an opportunity for both teams to get back on track, with BBU looking to Prum Puthsethy (pictured) and Nuth Sinoun to get them the goals they need, whilst Naga will rely on the old heads and know-how of Chin Chum and Teab Vathanak as well as Pok Chanthan and Chea Virath to overcome the youthful students. An interesting one to call, on this occasion I'll put my 100 riels on BBU.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Hodak looks ahead

Crown head coach Bojan Hodak looks ahead
Phnom Penh Crown are in the middle of a three-week break, despite having only played two games in the new Metfone C-League 2011 campaign so far. Their next match is against Prek Pra Keila on Sunday 1 May at the Olympic Stadium (4pm). I asked Crown’s head coach, Bojan Hodak for his views on the season so far and the next batch of matches, including the prestigious AFC President’s Cup competition. “The team is shaping up tactically but we looked tired already, especially the national team players, so we needed this mini-break. It’ll do the players good to have rested over New Year. I think we should have six points already, but for a few reasons we only have 4. We now need to focus on the next three League games. I expect us to win and play good football, as I do in every game my team plays. We certainly need to do much better when we come to the President’s Cup games."

Following hot on the heels of their next three C-League games, Crown will then host six Group A qualifying matches of the AFC President’s Cup at the Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh, in cooperation with the Football Federation of Cambodia. This cup competition pits together the league champions of Asia’s emerging nations and it’s the first time that Cambodia has hosted such a prestigious regional competition. The league champions of Kyrgyzstan (Neftchi Kochkor-Ata), Bangladesh (Dhaka Abahani Limited) and Sri Lanka (Don Bosco SC) will be challenging Crown for the two qualifying places in the six-team finals to be played later this year.

“As far as the President’s Cup matches are concerned, we need to be in good shape physically and the players need to be focused on their job. Rest and recovery between games will be very important too, as we will play three games in five days. The Kyrgyzstan team is the overall favourite to win the tournament, not just our group. The Bangladesh team is very experienced, they hardly lose games and it will be tough against them because of that. The Sri Lankan team is at our level and because we are at home, we will be favourites to win. We play Don Bosco from Sri Lanka in the 1st game, which is very important. Normally they say that it’s important not to lose the 1st game but a victory can give a morale boost to our team, so that’s what we’ll be aiming to do."

"We meet Abahani in the 2nd match. Again, our advantage is that we are playing at home and I really hope the stadium will be full of our supporters because the game is important not only for the fans of Phnom Penh Crown but for Cambodian football overall. The support of the fans can sometimes count as a 12th man on the pitch. That's what we want to happen. Our final match will be against the Kyrgyz champions, Neftchi, who according to my sources are very fit, well disciplined and tactically good, with good foreign players and a knowledgeable coach. Their main strength is their defence, having lost only one match all of last season. I am not surprised they are seeded number 1, however their disadvantage is that they have never played club football at an international level and sometimes this can make a difference. In addition, our weather is very different from theirs, it's a little too hot for them, so we shall see how they cope with that."

The AFC President's Cup program looks like this:

21 May: 2pm: Phnom Penh Crown v Don Bosco (SRI). 4pm: Neftchi (KGZ) v Abahani (BAN)

23 May: 2pm: Don Bosco (SRI) v Neftchi (KGZ). 4pm: Abahani (BAN) v Phnom Penh Crown

25 May: 2pm: Phnom Penh Crown v Neftchi (KGZ). 4pm: Abahani (BAN) v Don Bosco (SRI)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Reaching for the sky

Abahani Limited from Dhaka, the reigning Bangladesh champions
Don't make any mistake in underestimating the three foreign teams who will be winging their way to Phnom Penh next month to take part in the group matches of the AFC President's Cup, that kicks-off on Saturday 21 May. This is a big feather in Cambodia's cap to simply stage Group A of the competition but that gives Phnom Penh Crown no given right to progress to the finals. In fact, Neftchi Kochkor-Ata from Kyrgyzstan are the top-seeded club in all the groups, Bangladesh champions Dhaka Abahani Limited have appeared in the last three editions of the President's Cup and know the routine inside out, whilst Sri Lanka’s Don Bosco Sports Club are also out for blood in their first appearance in the tournament. Dhaka Abahani Limited are the best club in Bangladesh bar none. They have won the country's professional league for the last three seasons and at the mid-way point in their current campaign, they lie in 2nd place. This success, which includes a few cup wins in the locker as well, has been under coach Amalesh Sen, though he was relegated to assistant coach for the past six months, under Iranian head coach Ali Akbar, who left recently, so Sen is back at the helm. Included in their squad are four players with Ghanaian nationality, with top scorer Frank Twaunu Ntiny and long-serving Ibrahim Awudu the pick, whilst national team youngster Shakhawat Hossain Rony is one to watch too. With a proud record of fourteen league titles since their formation in 1972, the Sky Blues won the right to participate in the President's Cup this season by winning 22 out of 24 league games last term as they clinched the title. In 2009 and 2010 they twice staged the group matches of the President's Cup in Dhaka, and were unbeaten in all five games they played, yet failed to progress, so will certainly be looking to go one better this time around.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

2nd time lucky for Don Bosco

Don Bosco SC, last season's Sri Lankan league champions
Let's take a look at Phnom Penh Crown's first opponents when the AFC President's Cup kicks-off at the National Olympic Stadium on Saturday 21 May. The President's Cup competition is the third tier of the Asian Football Confederation and pits emerging nations against each other, in this instance, it will be the Sri Lankan league champions, Don Bosco Sports Club from Negombo. Don Bosco won the Sri Lankan Dialog Champions League in mid-January (as well as prize money of $6,300) with a two-point advantage over the Army, in what was only their second season in the top flight. The previous year they just missed out on the championship, so it was 2nd time lucky for the club, coached by former national coach Sampath Perera. Don Bosco SC began life in 1963 and their promotion as Division 2 champions in early 2009 was their first major honour. They currently have three players in the Sri Lankan national team with midfielder Philip Dalpedathu their most influential player. The only other occasion that Crown have met opponents from Sri Lanka was in the 2005 President's Cup when they lost 3-2 to Blue Star in the very last minute. In last season's President's Cup, Cambodia's representatives, Naga defeated the Renown SC from Sri Lanka 4-2 in their meeting.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Envelope journalism

Only one of these is not getting an envelope with cash in it and he's not looking happy about it either! (pic Nick Sells)
Whilst I'm on a roll, I posted this piece on my main blog on 9 March but forgot to post it here as well, even though it's essentially football-related. So here goes:
There's a frontpage story in today's Cambodia Daily about what they term envelope journalism which I must admit is something that has really got my goat since I became aware of it. Essentially, its the practice of paying reporters cash to attend media events. So for example, to get newspaper reporters to watch the football at the weekend and to report on it, the football federation has to pay them. The same goes for television reporters. In fact the federation has to pay the tv stations to show live games - which is completely arse about face of what happens in England for example, where the television companies pay a king's ransom for the pleasure of screening live football. The excuse for this practice is that it's seen as a Cambodian tradition, it's a gift to oil the wheels so to speak, even though essentially it's a form of bribery which is regarded as 'grave professional abuse' under the Press Law. Another excuse is that as the journalists are paid so poorly by their employers, this extra support money helps them make ends meet. That may be the case but the integrity, impartiality and professionalism of journalism in Cambodia will never move forwards unless these practices cease and reporters are paid a fair wage for a fair day's work.

Whilst I am in a rare moaning mood, I find it so disappointing that sport in Cambodia's public schools is either non-existent or barely scratches the surface. It's clear to anyone with a brain that providing regular sport and exercise in schools is a winner for all concerned, yet from speaking to many people, they had precisely zero exercise during their schooling days, whether in the city or in a more rural setting. How Cambodia will ever hope to do well on the sporting front if they don't encourage children to get involved and develop an appetite for sport, is beyond me. This should be an essential element of every child's schooling and it should be one of the main goals of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport to make sure it happens. Clearly, from speaking to everyone, that is not happening. Rather than just mouth off about it, I hope to be able to do something constructive in the future through Phnom Penh Crown football club. I'll let you know how this pans out.

Equity Weekly on football

This YouTube video has a 30-minute opening slot on the state of football in Cambodia, both at senior, grassroots and youth level. It's part of a programme from Equity Weekly that was first broadcast at the very end of last year. Fortunately, there's a subtitled translation into English. For more information about the great work of the SALT Academy in Battambang, click here.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Home and away

The Phnom Penh Crown headquarters at Tuol Kork taking shape
Cambodian football must begin to move forwards into a professional era. There is a whole list of priorities that need to be done to achieve this from employing professional administrators, to ensuring financially-sound clubs, to lawful players contracts, to a countrywide youth and grassroots development plan and much more. Even announcing the fixtures more than a week in advance of the season kicking-off would be a start. One of the most basic priorities is for all clubs to own or lease their own ground and for the C-League to be played on a proper home and away basis. At the moment, all matches are played at the National Olympic Stadium, so all teams are on equal footing, there is no advantage whatsoever of playing at home, or playing away. Whilst it makes it straightforward for the football-watching public as all the games are at one location, it does nothing to help generate any loyal following, any pride in playing matches at your home ground, there is no real or obvious distinction between the teams. To bring Cambodian football on a par with most other countries, both in the region and worldwide, this has got to be addressed sooner than later. My understanding is that this is something that the football federation president is keen on happening.
To achieve this, the federation must set a timeline for this basic but major step forward to be completed. A maximum of five years from now, all of the ten teams in the premier division of the C-League must have their own home ground or stadium and be capable of playing competitive matches in both the league and cup competitions, safely and in line with a set of criteria, that would include a suitable playing surface and practice area, changing room facilities, floodlights and both seated and standing terraces. Obviously that would be a massive leap for many clubs to achieve as we stand today. Perhaps only the Army, who have the Old Stadium as their headquarters, would be in a position to make that move right now. Though teams like Phnom Penh Crown, who own their training ground in Tuol Kork and who have room to expand, could achieve it in a fairly short time frame. For others it would take a while longer and without a firm financial commitment of sponsors and benefactors, not to mention paying supporters coming through the turnstiles, then for some it would be impossible to make it happen. Some clubs will fall by the wayside, others will rise to meet the challenge, but its a step that Cambodian football must take in my view, and one which they should put in motion sooner than later.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A pin drop

It's all gone deathly quiet at the Cambodian football federation this month. I can hear a pin drop as far as the just released FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings are concerned. It was only a few weeks ago that the FFC were jumping up and down and shouting from the rooftops that the Cambodian national team had moved to an all-time highest ranking of 154th and the national coach, Lee Tae-Hoon even suggested that they were seeking to break into the top 100. Get real coach. The abject failure to get through the AFC Challenge Cup group matches played in the Maldives has seen Cambodia sink back down to 169th, that's a fall of 15 places in a month. The three teams that inflicted defeats on us, Maldives, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, have all shot up the rankings table, leaving Cambodia just six places ahead of their next opponents, Laos. The next big test for Cambodia, and they need to succeed or face a ruinous stint under the leadership of the South Korean coach, will be in the 1st qualifying round of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, with the two legs to be played in Phnom Penh on 29 June, and in Vientiane on 3 July. The carrot of meeting China in the next round will certainly focus the intentions of both teams, who played out a goal-less draw in the Suzuki Cup in Vientiane in October last year, when they last met. The national coach has already called for a heavy training programme ahead of the two legs, following the Khmer New Year break this week, though he seems to forget that all of the Metfone C-League teams have another seven league games to fit in during the next two months, before the mid-season break kicks-in in mid June. So his training time with the squad members will be pretty limited and he'll have to seek the goodwill of the club coaches to ensure that his strict training regime doesn't interfere with the league programme. In addition, he would be well advised to get on the phone to Khim Borey in Sisaket, as well as on bended knee, to secure the services of the striker who is playing at the highest level of football of any current Cambodian player. And he can add Phnom Penh Crown utility player San Narith to his wish-list as well. To make certain of that win against Laos, they will need their strongest line-up.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Interview with Scott O'Donell

Former Cambodian national football coach Scott O'Donell, who is now advisor to Phnom Penh Crown, shares some of his views on Cambodian football with Antony Sutton, who runs the popular Jakarta casual football blog from Indonesia. Antony is a football nut and should be coming to Phnom Penh to watch some C-League games in a few months time. You can read his blog here. Scott splits his time these days between Phnom Penh and Singapore, where he regularly works as a pundit with the ESPN and Star Sports television channels.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Crown bang in 9

Crown skipper Thul Sothearith leads out his team against Rithysen
Phnom Penh Crown coach Bojan Hodak wasn't happy despite his team whitewashing Rithysen 9-0 in Sunday's Metfone C-League encounter. "We were more or less good enough in the first half but we found our motivation a problem in the second period. We looked heavy-legged, our final pass was missing and finishing became a problem for us. We slowed down and became too predictable. Defensively, we were good, they only entered our penalty box once in the match, with Ra making a good stop, and in midfield we more or less kept our shape. Kingsley did well with his three goals but he could've scored more and I know he can improve. To be honest, we need the break from playing and training, most of our players, especially those with the national team have been training for five months without a rest, so the break will freshen them up."
Though Crown managed to find the net on nine occasions yesterday, they missed another half dozen presentable chances in the first half and no less than a dozen opportunities after the break. Perhaps the most glaring was in the last minute of the first half when Suong Virak set up Kouch Sokumpheak for a virtual tap-in, but he managed to poke his shot against the upright and away to safety. It was an awful miss and he knew it. The same player had five more chances after the break but his goal-scoring touch had truly deserted him as he because more and more frantic in his attempts on goal. But it was Sokumpheak, regarded as one of the country's best marksmen for the last few seasons, who had opened up the floodgates on 10 minutes, when he was on hand to whack a loose ball past the Rithysen keeper after teammate Kingsley Njoku had failed with two attempts, the second one rebounding off the post straight to his fellow striker who made no mistake. A minute later it was Sokumpheak's visionary 30-yard pass that gave Sun Sopanha the opportunity to fire in an unstoppable shot from a tight angle for number two.

After both Sopanha and Virak had missed, we then enjoyed the eight-minute Kingsley show, where the striker's touch turned to gold with a whistle-stop hat-trick that almost took your breath away. He had Sopanha to thank for his first, with a perfect pass across the face of goal for the Nigerian to add the finishing touch. A hopeful punt forward by Kenneth Nwafor then saw Kingsley use his strength to knock off two defenders, dance his way around the keeper and walk the ball over the line. For his third, the muscly goal-machine took advantage of a defensive blunder to arrow home his hat-trick goal from 10 yards. With everyone expecting him to demonstrate his somersault prowess, he merely collected the ball and calmly returned it to the centre-circle. Rithysen replaced their keeper, Sam Vibol with the more experienced Oum Veasna almost immediately. I think back-ache was the cause.
On the half-hour Rithysen's Tam Yousos brought down Kingsley in what looked like a penalty but the referee pointed to an inch outside the box instead. With all eyes on a Tieng Tiny thunderbolt, Suong Virak stepped up, picked his spot and arrowed his free-kick into an unguarded corner of the net. Five minutes before the break, Rithysen's day went from bad to worse when Yousos was shown a 2nd yellow card, plus a red one, for clattering into Chan Dara, leaving his teammates with a veritable mountain to climb.
Virak was again on target just four minutes after the interval, homing in on a threaded San Narith pass and kept his cool to fire a low shot under the body of Veasna. Then came a string of misses that included two Njoku attempts that brought out the best in Veasna, two more Virak chances that would've seen him claim a hat-trick and a succession of opportunities that Sokumpheak failed to cash in. Sok Pheng replaced Njoku and scored with a ferocious drive from 2o yards that gave Veasna no chance, whilst another substitute, Hong Ratana, finished off a smart Pheng cross with a tap-in to take the score to 9-nil in the first minute of injury time. A tenth goal would've given the Crown squad an extra day's holiday over New Year but they failed to reach double figures.

Two decisions by the officials also meant Crown had to disrupt their team make-up during the game. A booking for Kenneth Nwafor on twelve minutes for an innocuous tackle took away his bite in the middle of the park and he was subbed at half-time. Just after the hour, Sun Sopanha had a minor altercation with the Rithysen bench. It had died down when the 4th official, Yien Kivatanak called the referee over and recommended a booking for Sopanha, even though match referee Sang Sopheak had seen it all. Sopanha was replaced almost straightaway. On the one occasion Rithysen did breach the Crown backline, after a miscue by Dara, Hong Visokra's strong right-hand kept out a vicious Seth Kamel drive. It was too little too late and the team from Kompong Chhnang will have gone home to lick their wounds from this hammering.
Crown line-up: Visokra, Dara, Sothearith, Tiny, Obadin, Narith, Nwafor (Narong 45), Sopanha (Ratana 69), Virak, Sokumpheak, Njoku (S Pheng 77). Subs not used: Bunchhay, Bunna, Sophat, Sochivorn, H Pheng, Sophanal.
Booked: Nwafor, Sopanha, Ratana.
The Crown starting line-up try to work out their team photo places
Rithysen are better organised, at least for the team photo
Thul Sothearith (red), Rithysen's Sum Sokhy (blue) and referee Sang Sopheak (middle yellow)
Coach Bojan Hodak expresses his displeasure at the 9-0 victory
On the other hand, to win 9-0 is still a very good result, so the players receive an extra day's holiday

The PKR bubble

The Preah Khan line-up against Chhlam Samuth on Sunday, with Khuon Laboravy wearing the captain's armband
Preah Khan Reach have now drawn their opening two C-League league games, against Phnom Penh Crown last week and then in Sunday's match against the Sea Sharks of Chhlam Samuth. The 2nd result was more surprising than the first. PKR are concentrating on homegrown players this season, adding to to their older contingent with fresh faces from the club's youth team and whilst their success in winning the Hun Sen Cup gave the club a major boost, it was their first silverware for years, it begs the question, did they peak too soon. The draw against Crown was somewhat fortunate but yesterday they barely looked on a par with the former Navy team, who lost their coach on the eve of the new season and have a team thrown together at the last minute, when Khemara's place in the top flight became available through hastily-arranged play-offs. Coach Rith Dikar will no doubt bemoan the loss of key players in recent games. Sam El Nasa has been sick, Prak Mony Udom has an ankle knock, Lay Raksmey went off early yesterday after missing the 1st game of the new campaign, and Ouk Mic was rested after playing non-stop for months. In fact their good form has worked against them, with all of those players regularly involved with the national team as well, which has generated more games and lots of hard training sessions. The only player that stands head and shoulders above anyone else is Khuon Laboravy and his majestic goal yesterday, weaving his way around four defenders before slotting the ball home, was easily the highlight of the match. When Laboravy is on top form, he can be unstoppable. Unfortunately for PKR, he's been involved with the national team as well, so he's as tired as the rest of them. They also came up against a team, buoyant after winning their 1st game against BBU and aided by the know-how of experienced pro Pov Samnang and two energetic foreign imports with a point to prove, Dauda Sanni and Olabode Abosede. The Sea Sharks have begun the season well and meet Rithysen in their next game though that's followed by a clash with champions Phnom Penh Crown, which will be a real tough test of their credentials. The two teams met earlier in the Hun Sen Cup with Crown running out easy 5-1 winners.
Chhlam Samuth have been a revelation in their 1st two matches of the new season

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Crown flatten Rithysen

Phnom Penh Crown's Kingsley Njoku scored 3 goals in 8 minutes versus Rithysen
It was a case of shock and awe with Sunday's football matches at Olympic Stadium. Shock in that Preah Khan Reach were held by one of the league's new teams, whilst Phnom Penh Crown left a bewildered Rithysen in awe with a first-half rampage that destroyed their will to fight. Here's a brief look at what happened.
Preah Khan Reach were held at 1-1 by surprise package Chhlam Samuth in Sunday's opening Metfone C-League game. There was little to choose between the sides in the 1st half before Khuon Laboravy brought the game to life with a brilliantly-crafted solo effort on 55 minutes, when he weaved his way past four defenders and slipped his shot past Sam Chamroeun from ten yards. It was the stuff you normally see from the likes of Barcelona's Leo Messi, it was that good. PKR then sat back and allowed newcomers Chhlam Samuth, poked and prodded by the evergreen Pov Samnang, to get a foothold in the game. They didn't let-up and netted the equaliser on 71 minutes. A poorly cleared corner fell to Samnang and his low drive was deflected goalwards by substitute Maxwell Woko before spinning off the heel of PKR's Sok Rithy and wrong-footing keeper Sar Sophea in goal. That's how it stayed as one of the league's favourites were held to their 2nd draw in two games.
Maxwell Woko got the final touch for the Chhlam Samuth equaliser against PKR
Phnom Penh Crown were in no mood to allow one of the new teams, Rithysen from Kompong Chhnang, an easy ride in their 2nd game of the C-League season. After 34 minutes of the 1st half, Crown led 6-0 after literally tearing the opposition defence into tatters. Urged by their head coach to start strongly, the Crown players followed his word to the letter with Kingsley Njoku netting a hat-trick in the space of eight minutes. Kouch Sokumpheak was the first to hit the target, in the 10th minute after Njoku had fluffed a guilt-edged opportunity by hitting the post from three yards out. Sun Sopanha rifled in a second a minute later before Njoku scored his first in the 18th minute. Two minutes later he battled with two defenders, and won, before rounding the keeper to walk the ball over the line. Another four minutes and he was on hand to turn in Sopanha's inviting pass. Sadly for the crowd the Nigerian striker failed to celebrate his goals with the acrobatic somersault that we saw in week 1. Suong Virak arrowed a free-kick past replacement keeper Oum Veasna on 34 minutes to complete the first-half scoring spree. After the break, Crown began in the same fashion with another goal from Virak after four minutes, but they then went through a spell where they missed more than a dozen chances, the chief culprit being Sokumpheak. A combination of poor finishing and the fine form of Oum Veasna was frustrating teh Crown attack until sub Sok Pheng rifled in a stunning 20 yard effort on 83 minutes and Hong Ratana sidefooted from close range in the 1st minute of time added on. 9-0 was the final result and Crown go into a three week hiatus with their first win of the new campaign. Their coach Bojan Hodak says the rest will do them a power of good. "We need the break from playing and training, most of our players, especially from the national team have been training for five months without a rest, so the break will freshen them up."
PP Crown line-up before their 9-0 success v Rithysen. Back Row LtoR: Njoku, Nwafor, Visokra, Dara, Obadin, Sopanha. Front Row: Tiny, Narith, Virak, Sokumpheak, Sothearith

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Dull and lifeless

Army's two talented keepers, Sou Yaty (left) and Oum Vichet
Week 1 of the new Metfone C-League saw it raining goals, 21 of them in the five matches played. This week's opening two matches, at the Olympic Stadium this afternoon, were the opposite side of the coin, both were turgid, lifeless affairs, with little goal threat offered up by all four teams involved. Both games were crying out for someone with the skill and talent to take the game by the scruff of the neck but alas it was not to be. With the Army and Kirivong kicking-off at 2pm and both with a win to their name from week 1, I expected better than I got. They canceled each other out in the 1st half, the game lacking any invention and only debutant referee Lim Bunthoeun kept himself busy with four bookings (out of a total of 7 in the match). Kirivong threw on the tiny Chhaing Sophal at the interval and he was conspicuous by his absence until 2 minutes from the end when he was tackled from behind by Khek Khemarin and referee Bunthoeun had his biggest decision of the match to make - he waved away the penalty appeals. Players like Phlong Chanthou, who netted a hat-trick last week, and Nelson Oladiji, who scored twice, as well as In Vichheka, Chhin Choeurn and Phoung Soksana were anonymous throughout, and it was left to the Army skipper, Thong Udom to come up with the game's most decisive moment eleven minutes from the end. Always a threat at set pieces, the center-half was big and strong as he met a Soeung Chan Vanno corner to the near post with a thunderous header for the winning goal. Army keeper Sou Yaty looked assured in dealing with a late Mom Sophol shot and got my vote as MotM for his safe handling and rock solid presence. I hope the watching national team coach took note.
Army pose before their 1-0 success over Kirivong
Kirivong were deflated by Army's 1-0 victory this afternoon
Army, in blue, and Kirivong take to the field
In the 4pm kick-off, the first half was as dull as the previous game and the 2nd half was only marginally better. The National Police team lacked any spark, with Sophal Udom having an off day and Prek Pra weren't good enough to break them down. The better chances came in the 2nd period and at the death, Prek Pra should've done better. Debutant Adebayo Jamiv headed straight at keeper Hin Sarith and in time added on, Sos Hanafy's 40-yard arrowing free-kick was tipped over the top. Earlier, the Police's Ol Ravy and Sophal Udom had goal-bound efforts kept out by Prek Pra's reliable stopper Yok Ary and when Udom did get the ball in the net, it was ruled out for offside. A 0-0 draw was not what the fans in the stadium had come to see. Nor me. Let's hope tomorrow's matches produce a better show for all concerned.
The National Police, held at 0-0 by Prek Pra Keila
Prek Pra line-up before the goal-less draw with the National Police

Friday, April 8, 2011

Rithysen up next

Chim Rathanak, still not ready for league action versus Rithysen on Sunday
Phnom Penh Crown will take to the pitch at Olympic Stadium for their second match of the new Metfone Cambodian League season on Sunday (10 April) at 4pm. Rithysen, from Kompong Chhnang, will be the opponents, still smarting after their 6-0 thrashing by the National Defense Ministry in midweek. It was a disappointing debut in the top flight for Rithysen after their promotion as runners-up from Division 1A at the end of last season. They will be hoping for an improvement against the reigning C-League champions, who kicked-off their campaign with a 2-2 draw with Preah Khan Reach last Saturday. Striker Kingsley Njoku scored six minutes into his Crown debut against PKR and will be hoping for a similar start against Rithysen. Chan Chaya, Crown's other goalscorer, will sit out the match due to suspension, after picking up two yellow cards and a red one against PKR.

Phnom Penh Crown head coach Bojan Hodak watched the midweek Rithysen defeat and commented; "I am expecting us to win. I think Rithysen are not at our level but we need to prove this on the pitch. If you underestimate any opponent you can be in trouble, so we need to go all out from the first whistle on Sunday." Hodak has three players on the medical treatment table, with new signing Sun Sovannrithy, a real doubt. "Ty began light training on Thursday after a few days rest with his knee injury, so he's likely to miss Sunday's game. Phoung Narong has a lower back problem though he's making progress and should be okay, but Chim Rathanak is a definite absentee. He's begun jogging but he's not yet doing any ball work. The three-week break after Sunday's game will also allow our national team players to recover from their recent heavy schedule."

There were two unexpected results from week 1 of the new C-League season. A late goal from Say Piseth gave newcomers National Police Commissary a deserved 2-1 victory over Naga Corp on Sunday, but perhaps the biggest shock was the midweek 3-2 success by another new outfit, Chhlam Samuth over the Hun Sen Cup finalists BBU. Pov Samnang scored two classy goals for the former Navy team. Kirivong proved too strong for Prek Pra Keila, winning 3-0 and Nelson Oladiji netting a brace of goals. We already know that Crown drew 2-2 in their crunch game with Preah Khan Reach and Sunday's opponents, Rithysen, were on the wrong end of a 6-0 drubbing by the Army, for whom substitute Phlong Chanthou scored the season's first hat-trick.
After 21 goals in 5 matches in week 1, for week 2 of the Metfone C-League campaign, the Army meet Kirivong and the National Police take on Prek Pra in Saturday's two matches, with Preah Khan Reach facing surprise package Chhlam Samuth in the first game on Sunday. The final match of week 2 will be held over until 23 April when Naga Corp face BBU.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Army hit six

Army sub Phlong Chanthou registered the 1st hat-trick of the new season
The opening game of the two Metfone C-League matches played on Wednesday was way too 1-sided to be enjoyed as a spectacle, though a 2nd half hat-trick by Phlong Chanthou certainly livened matters up after the Army had led by just the one-goal at the half-time interval. In truth, the Rithysen defence was so appalling that five-nil at the break would've been more worthy of their dominance but woeful finishing was to blame for the solitary goal, scored by skipper Thong Udom from the penalty spot a minute before the break, after Chhin Chhoeurn had his ankle clipped. Miss of the day must go to Touch Sokheng who managed to fluff the easiest of chances from three yards out and in front of an open goal. He rightly held his head in his hands after such a diabolical miss. After Chanthou's introduction up front at the interval, the Army began the 2nd half with even more purpose. It took him just three minutes to get off the mark, finishing off a cross by Phuong Soksana, and he was on target again, on 69 minutes when he headed in Chhoeurn's perfect bye-line center. Eight minutes from time, with Rithysen a spent force, Soeung Chan Vanno fired in his debut goal after coming on as a sub, whilst Chanthou flung himself at a Chhoeurn chip to head in a deserved hat-trick with two minutes left on the clock. Thong Udom rounded off the day to make it 6-0, a minute into added time, when he headed in a near post corner unopposed. It was no more than the Army deserved for stepping up a gear in the 2nd half. It was good to see Oum Kumpheak back in the Army fold after illness curtailed his campaign last season. To add to their woes, Rithysen now have a Sunday game against Phnom Penh Crown to look forward to.
The successful Army team who kicked-off their season in winning fashion
Back to the drawing board for Rithysen after their C-League debut ended in disaster

BBU stunned

Pov Samnang netted two classy goals in Chhlam Samuth's surprise victory
All of the teams in the Metfone C-league have now played their 1st game of the brand new season. And no-one can be more in shock than Build Bright United, who were outsmarted by the league's latest additions, Chhlam Samuth in Wednesday's 2nd game. They felt the full force of the Sea Sharks' bite and went down to a 3-2 defeat, with only themselves to blame for a lacklustre display. If anything they probably expected to walkover the newbies but they were in for a shock, which was an even bigger one that the Police's win over Naga on Sunday. BBU have been on fire at the start of this season, they reached the final of the Hun Sen Cup and aside from Rim Bunhieng on the bench, they had a full-strength line-up. They even took the lead on 27 minutes when Prum Puthsethy had his standing leg taken from under him by Ek Sovannara and Oum Chandara slotted home the resulting penalty with ease. Six minutes later Chhlam Samuth struck the leveller when Pov Samnang took a pass in his stride and rolled his shot confidently past Hem Simay. BBU were simply not clicking into gear whilst the former Navy team busied themselves in midfield and with the last kick of the 1st half, took the lead. It was two minutes into added on time when Samnang fed diminutive Nigerian striker Dauda Sanni and he floated a 20 yard first-time shot over a startled Hem Simay to give his team a deserved lead. Sanni joined the newcomers after plying his trade in SEAsia for the last three years in Vietnam, Thailand and here in Cambodia with Spark and Bayon Wanderers.
Twelve minutes into the 2nd half and Chhlam Samuth were celebrating once again. Pov Samnang showed classy control and a neat finish as he put his side 3-1 ahead after Sanni found him with a 30-yard pass. Within two minutes BBU gave themselves a lifeline when Pech Sina headed in Chan Veasna's free-kick and it looked like they'd turned the corner. A long distance Veasna chip was tipped over the top, Putsethy rattled the cross-bar from the edge of the box and Sina had two chances go astray as BBU huffed and puffed but couldn't break down the Navy defences. The dejected faces of the student team said it all at the final whistle; reputations count for nothing in football and there's always hope for the underdog.
On his debut the Sea Sharks' Dauda Sanni was a thorn in BBU's side all game
A full strength BBU team that were thoroughly deflated at the end of 90 minutes
Chhlam Samuth caused the biggest surprise of week 1 of the new C-League season