Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Before the action

Coach Prak Vanny puts Peng Bunchhay under pressure to catch the ball
Here's a few snaps from the warm-up and before the action begins in Sunday's Metfone C-League game between Phnom Penh Crown and Kirivong, which ended all square at 4-4. It featured an incredible comeback from Crown who narrowly missed out capturing all three points when they spurned an injury-time penalty kick.
2nd choice keeper Hong Visokra gets in some catching practice
3rd choice teenage Nhim Bunna getting down to collect a shot in the warm-up
Kenny Nwafor gets in some pre-match shooting practice
Kouch Sokumpheak during the pre-match sprints
Crown acknowledge their supporters before the handshakes
The Crown team looking disorganized, much as they were for the 1st hour of the match
Kirivong, who led 4-1 but were fortunate to hang on at the death
The match referee gets the toss-up right, and that was about it
The Crown bench just before kick-off on Sunday v Kirivong

Monday, May 30, 2011


BBU left it late to net the winner in their 2-1 success over Army
The 2nd game yesterday saw the Army with a chance to leapfrog over Phnom Penh Crown into top spot in the Metfone C-League, if they could dent the ambitions of the students of BBU. As it turned out, they couldn't and they didn't. And surprisingly, it was goalkeeper Sou Yaty, who I rate as the best of the homegrown stoppers and who should be in the national team squad, who will hold his hand up to shoulder most of the blame for the Army's failure. The normally reliable number 1 was at fault for both of BBU's goals, the last coming in time added on at the end of the game. BBU ran out 2-1 winners when Nhim Sovannara let fly with a 30-yard hit and hope which Yaty saw all the way but slipped as he went to catch it and fumbled the ball over his head and across the goal-line. If the earth would've swallowed him at that moment, he would've gladly accepted his fate. His first howler came in the 7th minute when he came out to challenge Oum Chandara, the ball rebounded off his body on the slippery pitch, straight to Pech Sina, who simply tapped the ball into the empty net. In all honesty the game should not have continued after half-time. The rain was torrential up until that point, the pitch covered in surface water and any resemblance to the game of football as we love it was impossible. Referee Khuon Virak was having none of it. He waited half an hour, with most of the crowd having already departed believing the game had been postponed, including the local media reporters. Even though the pitch was still covered in rainwater, he allowed the second half to begin and we watched as both teams slid and hacked their way through the next 45 minutes without any possibility of seeing anything other than kick and rush, stop and slosh. It was ridiculous and an afront to football. Virak and the match commissioner should be censored for allowing the game to continue. It was not in the best interests of football in the slightest and if I was on the end of this defeat, I would make a vociferous appeal to the football federation. Of course, they would turn a blind eye to any appeal, but someone has to challenge inept decisions such as we saw yesterday. The referee in the first match was bad enough but for Virak to even consider continuing the game yesterday was a very bad joke. The Army equaliser arrived five minutes after the half-time break. BBU keeper Hem Simay was adjudged to have caught Keo Vannak, though the striker certainly used the conditions to convince the referee and Thong Udom made no mistake from the penalty spot. In addition, Virak gave no allowance for the conditions and flashed no less than 7 yellow cards, which will come back to haunt both sides in future matches. The only plus point is that it gives me something to get my teeth into and something for the crowd to enjoy; the lowest common denominator is loved by Cambodian football supporters and watching players make an ass of themselves on a waterlogged pitch is high on their list.
The Army lost the chance to go top, losing 2-1 to BBU in the rain-sodden Olympic Stadium debacle

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Tired but unbowed

Crown coach Bojan Hodak (red) watches Tes Sophat and Sun Sovannrithy in pre-match sprints
Four games in nine days was the schedule that Phnom Penh Crown have had to endure thanks to the Cambodian football federation's refusal to postpone today's Metfone C-League match against Kirivong. Any right-minded football administrator would not have expected Crown to play so soon after three gruelling matches in the AFC President's Cup, representing their country. Not so the FFC. They refused saying that three days of recovery was sufficient and that a postponement was not possible. Well, a big thank you to the FFC for their careful consideration... and total lack of understanding. The effect was there for all to see in the first hour of the match this afternoon. The Crown team, also shorn of three of their best players through suspension, were well below par and were made to pay by a Kirivong team who took full advantage of the situation, and why not. Crown's defence have been meagre in the offerings they've allowed opponents this season and yet Kirivong were able to breach the Crown back-line on four occasions in that first hour. It doesn't take a genius to understand that the Crown players were in the most part, running on an empty tank.

Crown coach Bojan Hodak was understandably unhappy with the situation. "The FFC refused to postpone our match and you could see that our best players in the President's Cup, like Obadin and Bunchhay, they could hardly walk. We are a fit team and you could see that in the last 20 minutes when we dominated the game, but we lost our freshness, especially our defenders who were always one step too late. That was down to tiredness because of the number of hard games we've had to play." On the injury time penalty miss that would've won the game, Hodak said; "I don't blame Tony (Obadin), he was confident to take the responsibility. The two players I wanted to take the penalty didn't want to because they were not confident enough. You can practice penalties in training but no-one can devise a machine that can re-create the pressure of a match situation, no machine that can read which player mentally is up for the task. Tony was confident but it didn't work out. Today he wasn't at his best but he saved us during the President's Cup so today it was up to the other players to step forward."

Hodak's view on the performance of match referee Lim Bunthoeurn was less complimentary; "I think the referee was very disappointing and couldn't control a pretty easy and fair match. For example, in the five minutes of injury time, there was at least 3 minutes of time-wasting, but he didn't realise it or take it into account. But I don't blame him, it's all down to education and someone else has to answer why he was in charge of this match. The officials need to be good enough for this level of football." His final words echoed confidence in his players; "We are top of the table and we will stay there, despite the efforts of some people to move us from that position. I am sure we will finish top and achieve many good results this year."

Remarkable comeback

The Crown starting line-up: Back Row LtoR: Sovannrithy, Dara, Njoku, Bunchhay, Narong, Tiny. Front Row: Nwafor, Sophat, Sokumpheak, Obadin, Chaya
Where do I begin with this afternoon's Phnom Penh Crown Metfone C-League match with Kirivong? It had a bit of everything, which is great for the armchair fans watching on tv but frustrating for Crown supporters, who watched their team go down 4-1 in under an hour, stage a remarkable comeback to restore parity and then fluff a penalty in stoppage time that would've clinched a deserved win. Add to the mix an incompetent referee, six bookings, a red card for Kirivong's Berejo Muhammeda with ten minutes to go and a bunch of near misses and you have a match that will live long in the memory, not necessarily for all the right reasons. Crown kicked off and looked well below par with their rock-solid defender Odion Obadin, who was a colossus in the President's Cup, nearly gifting Kirivong two goals in the first twelve minutes. Twice Sunday Ayodele nearly cashed in but was off-target on both occasions. At the other end, Kingsley Njoku had a shot blocked by keeper Koun Thnou but In Vichheka posted notice of his intentions when Peng Bunchhay dropped the ball at his feet and he toe-poked it against the cross-bar. In the 20th minute, it was Vichheka who got his head to Song Dara's whipped-in free-kick that sailed past Bunchhay for the opening goal. It was one of many free-kicks that Crown conceded in the first-half. Four minutes later Crown were level. Tieng Tiny's free-kick to the far post was headed towards goal by Obadin, it hit a defender and fell nicely for Chan Chaya to whack in from five yards out. Just two minutes on and Kirivong got their noses in front again. Ayodele reacted first to Ouk Thon's right wing cross and his flick eluded the flailing arms of Bunchhay to put them 2-1 ahead. Crown applied some pressure but looked a shadow of the team that did so well in the AFC President's Cup. It was their 4th game in 9 days and it certainly showed in their finishing, with strikers Kouch Sokumpheak and Kingsley Njoku lacking any real power after creating good goalscoring opportunities before the half-time interval.

Just 38 seconds into the 2nd period and Ayodele pulled the trigger only for Chan Dara to block at the last moment. Two minutes later, Ayodele set up In Vichheka for his second goal after Chan Chaya's poor touch had put his own team in trouble, and the Kirivong striker whipped his shot into the roof of the net. Another poor touch, this time from Kenny Nwafor, gifted the ball to Berejo Muhammeda and his long ball sent Ayodele away, beyond the Crown backline. His shot on the run from 20 yards struck the bar, bounced down and was cleared only for the assistant referee to initially wave play on, and then change his mind to raise his flag and award the goal. Despite protestations from the Crown players, referee Lim Bunthoeurn agreed with his fellow official and Kirivong were 4-1 ahead and in dreamland, judging by their celebrations. Around the hour mark, Crown coach Bojan Hodak introduced two fresh faces and legs into the action and it proved the catalyst for what turned out to be a remarkable comeback. On 67 minutes, Suong Virak's short corner to Tieng Tiny was whipped across the face of goal where Sok Pheng got a touch and Kenny Nwafor forced the ball over the goal-line. The same player broke past the last defender a few minutes later, but he too lacked power in his finish, shooting weakly at keeper Thnou. In the 81st minute Kirivong were reduced to ten men when Muhammeda received his second yellow card, for a late tackle on Tiny, and was dismissed with a simultaneous red card by referee Bunthoeurn. Four minutes later and it was game on when another Virak corner was headed on by Chan Chaya and Bryan Edem turned the ball past his own keeper from close in.

Crown were in full flow now, Kirivong couldn't stem the tide and were fortunate when Tiny's header from another Virak corner struck the crossbar with a minute to go. The corner count was weighted heavily in Crown's favour at 14-1. With twenty seconds of normal time remaining, Crown breached the Kirivong defence again to draw level, when Sun Sovannrithy got his head to Sok Pheng's cross and the 4th official held up five minutes of injury time. In the first minute, Crown were gifted the opportunity to earn a memorable victory from the penalty spot. Kouch Sokumpheak took a tumble under the challenge of Mom Sophol and the referee pointed to the spot, even though the tackle appeared just outside the box. As others turned from the responsibility, Odion Obadin stepped up to spot but his placement was too close and too weak to elude Koun Thnou's diving save and the opportunity was lost. There was still time for a Chan Chaya goal-bound header to be cleared from under the bar by Sok Nasiet before the game ended all square. It was a thrilling end to a game in which Crown showed great character, though it was poorly handled by referee Bunthoeurn and the reaction of Crown coach Hodak at the final whistle showed he thought so too. Crown were already without the suspended Thul Sothearith, Sun Sopanha and San Narith for this match and a booking for Chaya will see him sit out the next match, but it was the time-wasting tactics of Kirivong that infuriated most and which the referee repeatedly allowed them to get away with. Crown remain at the top of the table, a point ahead of Naga and are still the only unbeaten team in the C-League.
Crown line-up: Bunchhay, Dara, Sovannrithy, Tiny, Obadin, Narong, Sophat (Virak 59), Nwafor (Ratana 78), Chaya, Sokumpheak, Njoku (S Pheng 64). Subs not used: Visokra, Bunna, Vanthan, Sophanal, Rathanak, Sochivorn, H Pheng. Bookings: S Pheng, Chaya.
Coach Bojan Hodak tells his team that they showed "great character" to come back to 4-4
Referee Lim Bunthoeurn leaves the pitch after a poor game by the man in yellow and black
The Crown team take to the field for their 4th game in 9 days

Otherwise engaged

There were two Metfone C-League matches played yesterday afternoon, though I was on a bus coming back from Laos so couldn't be present. In the first game, Rithysen looked to be coasting to their first points of the season, leading 3-1 despite losing Nigerian signing Etim Esin on his debut to two yellow cards just after half-time. Keo Dara with 2 goals and Tam Yousos put them into what they must've thought was an unassailable lead before the National Police came bouncing back with two late late goals from Moeung Phanith, his 2nd, and Tith Dina, in the 4th minute of stoppage time. Rithysen must've been gutted. I was, just reading about it.
In the 2nd match, Naga proved they are on a roll with an 8-3 thrashing of Chhlam Samuth. The Navy team had the temerity to open the scoring through Olabode Abosede before Naga replied with three of their own. Two more goals from Chhlam Samuth brought it back to 3-2 before Naga, with hit-man Julius Oiboh grabbing yet another hat-trick, sailed back into the lead and cashed in on a dejected Navy defence. Oiboh now has ten goals to his name including three hat-tricks, which is just about the perfect way to announce your arrival in any league. With him in their ranks, Naga will be pushing for honours if they maintain their recent form. Other Naga scorers were Teab Vathanak with two goals, and a goal apiece for Kop Isa, Om Thavrak and Omogba Esoh. Dauda Sanni and Pov Samnang netted the Navy's other goals. Fifteen goals in two matches and I was sat on an uncomfortable, sweltering bus on the Mekong River road all bleedin' day.

Request denied

Phnom Penh Crown will take to the Olympic Stadium field again today, just four days after successfully completing their AFC President's Cup, where they played three tough games in five days. So today will be their fourth match in nine days. In anyone's book that is too much to ask a team to play. However, not according to the football federation of Cambodia. They were asked to postpone today's game to give the Crown team some much needed rest, after the team represented both the country and the club so well in the top Asian cup competition. They refused, saying the programme couldn't be changed for numerous reasons. How about the welfare of the players as a reason? Fat chance. Request denied. So this afternoon, at 2pm - let's hope its cloudy and overcast and not humidly hot as it usually is - Crown will meet one of the in-form teams in the Metfone C-League, Kirivong Sok Sen Chey, and will also have to do it without three of their regulars, who are all suspended. Skipper Thul Sothearith (pictured) saw two yellows and a red card in the last league outing against BBU, whilst both Sun Sopanha and San Narith will miss out as they have both accumulated two yellow cards this season. Talking of yellows, the other Crown players who've picked up cautions to-date are Kenny Nwafor, Hong Ratana, Tieng Tiny and Chan Chaya. If they get another one, they'll be missing too. Which is a mockery in my opinion. Two yellows and you get suspended for 1 game - that's ridiculous. That is in effect giving immense power to the Cambodian match officials who are notorious for flashing cards at random in C-League matches. Teams will be affected by bad judgement calls from the referees, two slightly mistimed tackles and you could be sidelined for an important match. As an example of where the C-League is at odds with other disciplinary systems, in the Barclays Premier League, the world's top league, you are suspended after receiving five yellow cards, not a paltry two. FFC please take note.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Final photos

Phnom Penh Crown skipper Thul Sothearith (red) leads out his team
And just to wrap up the AFC President's Cup competition, here's a few photos from the Olympic Stadium on the final day of activity.
Crown coach Bojan Hodak in relaxed mood before the kick-off
Striker Kingsley Njoku warms up with the Crown substitutes
A few sprints to get the leg muscles working with Sun Sovannrithy and San Narith out front
The Crown team in the tunnel before the game
Phnom Penh Crown line up on the pitch
The Neftchi team, who beat Crown 1-0 in the final match of the tournament
The match officials and captains pose before kick-off

Awudu on song

Ibrahim Awudu from Ghana netted a hat-trick in Abahani's final match
The first AFC President's Cup game played this afternoon between Abahani and Don Bosco went pretty much as expected, with the experienced team from Bangladesh, Abahani, running out 4-1 winners. Don Bosco go home without any points but were on top of the world for a few moments early in the game when they took the lead, netting their 1st goal of the competition. A howler from Abahani's keeper Rahman Zia who miscued his attempted clearance left Don Bosco's Nipuna Bandara with the simple task of rolling the ball into the empty net to set off scenes of short-lived joy. The reason, Abahani levelled within exactly sixty seconds. Man of the match Ibrahim Awudu rolled the ball to Hossain Rony and he made no mistake form 15 yards to level the scores. It was all Abahani to be honest, Don Bosco were game but lacked the know-how to really put the Bangladesh team under pressure and it was only a matter of time before the Sri Lankans went behind. Six minutes after the break, Awudu whacked one in from close range on his way to a 2nd half hat-trick. He fired another unstoppable shot past keeper Ajith Kumara on 61 minutes and completed his trio of goals from the penalty spot nine minutes from time. The last goal was a bit strange. Kumara handled outside the penalty area and also clipped Awudu as he went through, the striker fell inside the box and referee Tseytlin from Uzbek pointed to the spot on advice from his assistant referee. Awudu dusted himself off to ease home his spot-kick and take a well-earned rest and applause from the crowd. It was all over bar the shouting, with Abahani recording their first win, 4-1.
Abahani looking relaxed before their final game, a 4-1 win over Don Bosco
Don Bosco took the lead for the 1st time but eventually went down 4-1

A major success

Would you believe it... Cambodia's best female singing star, Meas Soksophea, came to watch the football today and I was so busy running around doing my media duties that I had no chance to say hello. I'm gutted. However, be that as it may, Phnom Penh Crown were pipped at the final post for the top spot in Group A of the AFC President's Cup, losing 1-0 to Neftchi, who topped the table with three wins from their three matches. It was a tough pill to swallow with the goal coming eleven minutes from the end of a game that looked destined for a draw, and honours even. Nevertheless, Neftchi were the bookies favourites for the whole competition and Crown have shown over their three games in the last five days, that there is little to choose between the teams. That will give them bags of confidence for the competition finals, which are likely to be held in September. The location has yet to be decided by the AFC, dependent on who qualified as one of the six finalists. The last two finals have been held in Tajikistan and in Myanmar, where the host teams both came out on top to lift the trophy, so home advantage certainly has a part to play. We await the AFC's deliberations with interest. The whole competition, which featured six matches staged at the Olympic Stadium, has been a major success by anyone's reckoning. The crowds have been very good, especially for Phnom Penh Crown's matches, obviously, the teams have given their all under testing weather conditions, the match officials all did a good job on and off the pitch, the entertainment provided on all three matchdays was a welcome addition to the event and the important result is that Crown achieved their pre-tournament aim, to qualify for the finals. Add to that the friendships and respect developed between the teams and officials and you have yourself a very successful tournament. This was the first international club competition of its kind ever staged in Cambodia and everyone connected to it should give themselves a pat on the back.

Crown denied top spot

The Crown starting line-up: Back Row LtoR: Sopanha, Sovannrithy, Sochivorn, Obadin, Narong, Bunchhay. Front Row: Narith, Virak, Sophat, Ratana, Sothearith
With qualification already assured and with one eye firmly on Sunday's upcoming important Metfone C-League match against Kirivong, Phnom Penh Crown coach Bojan Hodak was forced to rest five of his first-choice starting line-up for the last of the AFC President's Cup qualifiers this afternoon. Determined to win this last match against Neftchi from Kyrgyzstan, who too had gained a spot in the finals with two wins from two games, Hodak was yesterday informed by the Cambodian Football Federation that they would not allow Crown to move their match on Sunday to the following month to give their players sufficient recovery time. Fearing that four matches in nine days would be simply too much for all of his players to endure, he was forced to make changes. The match against Neftchi was always going to be Crown's toughest game of Group A and with these enforced changes, it certainly proved to be, as the coach identified after the match ended with a 1-0 victory in favour of Neftchi. "I'm quite happy and not disappointed because we reached our target of qualification to the next round. This is a big achievement for the club. I always want to win every game but when the Federation were asked to move the Kirivong game and they said no, 4 games in 9 days is too much to ask anyone to play. Nowhere in the world are players asked to do this. Today's match wasn't the best quality and you could see that physically, the players found it very hard to play 3 games in five days. However, we showed we are a match for the favourites in the whole competition, there's not much difference between us and it took a lucky goal to beat us in today's final match."

That lucky goal came eleven minutes from the end of a pretty turgid affair, in front of a big crowd at the Olympic Stadium and in sweltering, humid conditions. Marat Adzhiniiazov gave a 'give and go' pass to Ruslan Djamshidov and struck the return pass over the head of Crown keeper Peng Bunchhay from 25 yards to stun the home crowd into silence. The look on the face of the 20 year old said that he was just as stunned as well with the result. The goal arrived just as it looked that a draw was on the cards for the two teams who had already qualified for the finals, likely to be played sometime in September. That pre-qualification allowed both coaches to make changes to their starting line-ups, to rest players and give some of the fringe players game time. The first 45 minutes, which was completely devoid of any serious goal threat from either team, clearly indicated that the teams had already achieved their target and weren't prepared to go 'hell for leather' for a result. In effect, even with fresh faces in the line-ups, they cancelled each other out.

For the second period , Crown coach Hodak injected some pace into his attack with the introduction of crowd favourite Chan Chaya and youngster Hong Pheng, for the latter's first taste of big-time football. Immediately, the move perked up the home fans, Crown took control of the midfield and used their pace to good effect. Six minutes after the interval, Phoung Narong passed into the path of Hong Pheng and his first-time viciously-struck shot was punched to safety by Neftchi keeper Kalysbek Akimaliev. Minutes later, the young striker was again in the thick of it as Chaya touched the ball to Pheng, but his drive was wide of the target. Just after the hour mark, Pheng's neat touch fed Chaya in space but his run on goal was halted by Akimaliev, who quickly left his goal-line to block with his feet and clear the danger. With both teams making changes, Neftchi introduced two of their most experienced players in the hope of grabbing a result, and it paid off. Pavel Pavlov and Evgeny Pilipas used their know-how to good effect in the later stages and the winning goal arrived after a sustained spell of possession. You have to feel sorry for Crown keeper Peng Bunchhay who gave another faultless performance between the sticks but was given no chance by Adzhiniiazov's fortunate strike. Hong Ratana floated the final shot from Crown beyond the far post as Neftchi celebrated topping the group at the final whistle, though for both teams their objective of qualification had been achieved.
Crown line-up: Bunchhay, Narith, Sothearith, Tiny, Obadin, Narong, Sophat, Sopanha (Sokumpheak 78), Virak (Chaya 45), Sovannrithy, Sochivorn (H Pheng 45). Subs not used: Visokra, Bunna, Dara, Tiny, Vanthan, Sophanal, Njoku, Rathanak, S Pheng.
Coach Bojan Hodak congratulates his players on their efforts and to achieve qualification despite their defeat to Neftchi
The Crown bench just before kick-off today

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A reality

Doing brisk business, the Crown souvenir booths at Olympic Stadium
With Wednesday's final two matches in the AFC President's Cup looming large, I'd better post a few more pictures from Monday at the Olympic Stadium, when both Phnom Penh Crown and Neftchi qualified for the cup's final round with a game each to spare. Not bad if you can manage it. Though I must admit the 90 minutes against Abahani were as nervy as hell, watching from the grandstand. The crowd was registered at just over 6,000, but I never believe official attendances, ever, and they included Crown's Academy youngsters and their friends, who gave the team great support. I watched the television coverage of the game later that night and it made me smile when the cameraman kept focusing on the Academy boys in their blue jerseys, blowing their horns, banging their home-made drums and waving the Crown flag. Even their house-mothers, who were keeping an eye on them, had forgotten their charges and were jumping up and down with everyone else. Whilst I realise that the 6,000+ fans are at the ground because its a big cup competition, we've advertised far and wide, etc, etc, one day I would like to hope that these scenes will be seen at Cambodian football grounds week in and week out, as they are at football grounds all over the world. Crown are seriously looking into playing their home games at their own ground in Tuol Kork next season and this is the way to go if we want to have a truly professional stab at raising the standard of football in the Kingdom. Each team to have their own ground, their own supporters and everything else that goes with it. That's the dream, now let's make it a reality.
Chan Chaya jumps high in heading practice with Kouch Sokumpheak
Pre-match warm-up sprints for Chaya and Sokumpheak
The Crown team take to the field against Abahani
The Crown players waiting for the handshakes to begin
The Abahani team from Bangladesh, who were beaten 1-nil by Crown
The team captains exchange club pennants before kick-off
The Crown subs bench with coaching staff in light blue tops
Crown coach Bojan Hodak at the post-match press conference
Part of the post-match entertainment at the Olympic Stadium

Press coverage

If you are looking for accuracy in your football match reports, then you might want to look elsewhere than in the English-language Phnom Penh Post. Their review of yesterday's game in today's paper included not only the incorrect spelling of Phnom Penh Crown's opponents, Abahani, no less than five times but they used the wrong surname for striker Kingsley Njoku as well as the mistiming of the winning goal and its circumstances. The report described the spectators as a 'motley crowd' (I would've called them vociferous and excitable maybe, not motley) and then went onto quote the Abahani coach at length, rather than giving the winning Crown coach column inches. It beggars belief really. I was equally perplexed at the report for Crown's game against Don Bosco. Apparently Chan Chaya showed 'playmaking brilliance' and scored a 'charming goal' - neither of which makes sense to anyone who watched the match. At least they quoted the Crown coach for that game, but repeatedly gave the wrong name of the Neftchi coach. In addition, two press conferences were staged before the AFC President's Cup began and the Post managed to send a reporter to one of them, without a photographer, and the resulting coverage of the press conferences in the paper was zero. The whole point of staging them is to provide information to the local press and an opportunity to interview the important people connected to the competition. The Post obviously don't agree; probably too busy with their tennis coverage, which receives an extraordinary amount of column inches for the number of people interested in the sport. Disappointing is the word I'd use. And don't even get me started on the non-existent coverage in The Cambodia Daily.

Neftchi one of the six

Aleksandr Beldinov netted Neftchi's 2nd and decisive goal
Qualification for the final round of matches, at a location and date to be decided by the Asian Football Confederation in due course, will see Phnom Penh Crown lining up with five other teams in the AFC President's Cup finals. Joining them will be Neftchi from Kyrgyzstan, who Crown play tomorrow in the final Group A qualifying round game, as well as reigning champions Yadanarbon (Myanmar), Istiklol (Tajikistan), Taiwan Power Company (Chinese Taipei) and FC Balkan (Turkmenistan). The qualifiers from Groups B and C were already decided before the Group A matches got underway. The game played before Crown's 1-nil victory over Abahani Limited from Bangladesh, saw Neftchi, as expected, overcome Don Bosco (Sri Lanka), though their margin of victory wasn't as high as I expected. Nevertheless, Neftchi join Crown as one of two qualifiers. Though the game was pretty one-sided, with Neftchi leading 1-0 at the interval, and even though they went down to 10-men they netted a second, before Don Bosco finally woke up and offered up some resistance. Pavel Pavlov gave Neftchi the lead on 24 minutes, finishing off a right-wing cross from Marat Adzhiniiazov. Don Bosco saw a glimmer of hope when Nipuna Bandara broke through but he rolled his shot against the foot of the upright. Two tackles and two yellow cards for Neftchi's Ahrorjon Rakhmanjonov within eight minutes of the restart saw the Kyrgyz team reduced to ten men but they were still too powerful for Don Bosco, and scored a second goal on 65 minutes. Roman Ablakimov's cross fell to the feet of Aleksandr Beldinov and he made no mistake from five yards out. Don Bosco stepped up their efforts in the last twenty minutes and twice Bandara went close but they didn't have the firepower to trouble Neftchi, who ran out 2-0 winners and booked their qualification place in the competition finals.
The Neftchi team that beat Don Bosco 2-0 to qualify for the finals
Don Bosco went down to their 2nd defeat of the group series

Crown qualify

PPCFC v Abahani: back Row LtoR: Obadin, Dara, Tiny, Njoku, Bunchhay. Front Row: Narong, Narith, Sopanha, Sokumpheak, Chaya, Sothearith
"We deserved to win," was the parting comment from Phnom Penh Crown's head coach Bojan Hodak at his after-match press conference following his team's hard-fought 1-0 victory over Bangladesh champions Abahani Limited at the Olympic Stadium Monday afternoon. The win earned Crown a place in the finals of the AFC President's Cup with still one game to play in this Group A qualification series. Two teams qualify from the four-team group and both Crown and Neftchi, the Kyrgyzstan champions, will progress after winning their opening two matches. Hodak was quick to praise his opponents. "They are a good team and have a few very good players. But we had more chances and we deserved to win." He also focused on his team's defensive qualities. "We have now played six matches without conceding a goal. That breeds confidence. Our defenders played particularly well, but so did the whole team. It's a team effort. We want to finish top of the group, but I'll need to look at the condition of our players. I'm very happy with our performance."

With a victory against Don Bosco already in the locker, Crown kicked-off against Abahani, who have twice hosted similar qualification series. There was little to choose between the two teams in the early exchanges and the first goal threat came from Crown's Kouch Sokumpheak, who shot on the turn but was off target with his effort. Crown goalkeeper Peng Bunchhay, who has looked assured in both matches, snuffed out the danger when Pranotosh Kumar got on the end of a free-kick after twenty minutes. Seven minutes later the best opportunity of the game went begging when Odion Obadin rose above everyone else only to send his powerful header over the cross-bar from Sun Sopanha's corner kick. Abahani's passing game was coming to the fore as the first-half wore on and Mohammed Robin sent a fizzing shot wide of the target, before Bunchhay punched away Ibrahim Awudu's thumping cross-shot for a corner. The half-time whistle arrived with both teams feeling the effects of the hot sun.

The experienced Sun Sovannrithy replaced Phoung Narong at half-time; the latter had been booked and received an elbow in his face for his troubles. Crown defender Tieng Tiny was also cautioned as he stopped the explosive run of Pranotosh Kumar just after the interval. The first chance of the second period fell to Crown's Kingsley Njoku, but his weakly struck left-foot drive sailed wide after a defensive mix-up presented him with the opportunity. Just after the hour, Sun Sovannrithy fed Sokumpheak inside the penalty box and his low drive looked destined for the bottom corner, until Abahani keeper Alam Sohel stuck out his right foot to divert it for a corner kick. The large crowd at the stadium 'arrh'd' their disappointment. In the space of a minute, both teams created more chances. San Narith will pinch himself for not getting his 20 yard shot on target when Sopanha rolled a free-kick to him, and at the other end, Obadin headed away an on-target header from Abahani's main threat, Ibrahim Awudu.

On 73 minutes, Peng Bunchhay came to Crown's rescue when he made himself large to deny Hossain Rony as he broke into the box and shunted his shot goalwards. From then on Crown took the upper hand. Chan Chaya's speed of foot was always a threat but his 79th minute header from a Sopanha free-kick, that was deflected to the far post by the defensive wall, was punched over by Alam Sohel. From the resulting Sopanha corner, a Tieng Tiny header fell to Chan Chaya, six yards from goal, and he whacked his shot past Sohel to send the Crown team, and the whole stadium, into raptures. There was no way back for Abahani as Crown closed the game out to record their second consecutive win in the competition and earn themselves a place in the finals of the AFC President's Cup.
PPCFC line-up: Bunchhay, Dara, Sothearith, Tiny, Obadin, Narith, Narong (Sovannrithy 45), Sopanha (Virak 88), Chaya, Sokumpheak, Njoku (Sochivorn 87). Subs not used: Visokra, Bunna, Vanthan, Sophanal, Rathanak, Sophat, Ratana, H Pheng, S Pheng. Bookings: Narong, Tiny, Dara.
'Cometh the hour, Cometh the man' - Crown's goalscoring hero, Chan Chaya
Thul Sothearith leads out his Crown team in front of a large crowd
Crown coach Bojan Hodak expresses his happiness to his team at the final whistle