Friday, September 30, 2011

A look over the border

Looks like Phnom Penh Crown won't be playing in the upcoming 2011 BTV Cup (Binh Duong Television Cup) in Vietnam afterall. This international friendly cup competition is held annually in the Go Dau Stadium, the home of V-League team Becamex Binh Duong. The teams for this year's competition have now been announced and the matches begin on 6 October. The teams taking part are: Group A: Becamex Binh Duong, Hai Phong, MSK Zilina (Slovakia), Villa SC (Uganda). Group B: Sai Gon Xuan Thanh, SHB Da Nang, East Bengal (India), Matsubara (Brazil). In 2003 a team under the moniker of Olympic Cambodia took part in the cup competition.
Whilst on the subject of Vietnamese football, their league championship has just come to a close with the Song Lam Nghe An (SLNA) team, based in Vinh, crowned as the V-League champions, with a 3-point winning margin over Hanoi T&T. The average attendance for V-league matches during the season was just over 7,000 with Vicem Hai Phong getting the biggest crowds, averaging over 17,000 for each home game. Top scorer was Argentine striker Gaston Merlo for SHB Da Nang, for the third consecutive year, with 22 goals. Navibank Saigon beat the league champions 3-0 in the National Cup Final and now qualify for next season's AFC Cup. However, despite the rapid growth of the sport, with high transfer fees, there is dissention in the camp, with six clubs believed to be threatening a breakaway Super League, citing rampant corruption amongst referees and mis-management by the federation.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


The first-class national stadium at Kaohsiung
I had to choke back the vitriol when I read on the AFC website that the AFC suits had publicly praised the local organising committee for hosting the AFC President's Cup final stage so well. Yes, that's the same committee who sent Phnom Penh Crown to a training session on the eve of the final where there was no grass surface available to use, the same committee who provided us with a liaison officer who was worse than useless, they promised live online screening of the match that didn't happen, there were numerous other 'jobsworth' incidents that left a bitter taste, including their failure to provide us with a DVD of the final match before our departure, despite being asked numerous times. The first chance we had to see highlights from the final was on YouTube. That simply isn't good enough. Personally, I didn't think it was a good idea to corral all six teams in the same hotel and Taipower's late-night fleeing under armed police guard after the final reflected that. Admittedly, the stadium for the final stage was about as good as it gets and is definitely a blueprint for a national stadium that Cambodia would do well to look at. The facilities at the stadium were first-class. The AFC also announced that Myanmar look set to join the second-tier cup competition, the AFC Cup, next season after getting off their arse and doing something about meeting the qualification standards, which the Cambodian Federation failed miserably to do, whilst their replacements in the AFC President's Cup may well be Mongolia, where FC Ulaanbaatar have just won the national championships.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Completely underwhelmed

Top scorer He (7) and MVP Chen (26) wait to collect their awards last night
Taipower not only walked away with the AFC President's Cup trophy last night, they also picked up the competition awards for the Top Goalscorer and the Most Valuable Player. With 4 players on five goals each and Crown's Kingsley Njoku on 4 goals for the whole tournament, it was Taipower's Ming-Chan He, with his two goals in last night's final, that leap-frogged everyone to collect the goalscorer's trophy. The Abdullah Al Dabal (former FIFA executive committee member) Most Valuable Player award also went to a Taipower player, forward Po-Liang Chen, who got the nod over other worthy candidates. The AFC Fair Play Award went to Neftchi Kochkor-Ata. The Kygrzystan team failed to make it out of Group B but picked up the award anyway. All of these awards were made by the AFC suits, so aside from the top scorer, no-one has any idea how they arrived at these results.
To say that I am completely underwhelmed by the suits at the AFC is a massive understatement. Ranging from their absurd decision to allow Taipower to wear their preferred playing kit for the final, to their complete dereliction of duty of care when Crown were sent to the wrong training facility a day before the final, to their selection of the Final referee, who was let's say, less than equitable with his decisions, as well as misinformation about the online screening of matches and other questions that were deflected or went unanswered. They even made David Booth sit through two post-match press conferences last night, which is a misnomer in itself, as at every press conference we attended, there was one western journalist working for the AFC website and that was it. A complete lack of Taiwanese journalists was frankly, an embarrassment. Equally, the attendance at the Final last night was also a joke. Just over 3,200 people bothered to turn up in a country where Baseball rules the roost and no-one seems to give a fig for football. If the premise behind awarding Taiwan the final stage of this year's AFC President's Cup was designed to help promote football in this nation, it fell completely on its arse. If I sound bitter, then that's because I am. If we had been treated with due respect and equality then we'd have no complaints, but we clearly were not and the decision of the match referee in time added on was the icing on the cake. We have to deal with our irresponsible behaviour that followed, but I really think the AFC need to look at the part they played in setting the scene.

Moments of madness

We worked so hard for this, only to fail at the final hurdle. Taipower celebrate their success.
It's an empty feeling, the morning after a cup final defeat. The 'what if's' are swirling around but for Phnom Penh Crown all the hard work that went into getting to the AFC President's cup final and nearly pulling off a great fightback, was undone by a few moments of madness. The consequences of those mindless moments will come back to haunt us I'm sure. We'll have to take that fallout on the chin, but it's painful to see how much hinges on one decision, or in this case, a non-decision by the match referee. To be frank he gave us nothing the whole game except the most obvious red card that even he couldn't shy away from. For a team that was in the running for the Fair Play award, we picked up five cautions in the game (as well as three red cards), whilst Taipower picked up none. The referee awarded them a penalty when everyone saw it was a dive, we were frustrated by free-kicks and decisions not going our way and then the last straw was the nailed-on penalty in time added on, that he simply waved away. Of course, he was a 'homer,' after our treatment in the last couple of days, we shouldn't have expected anything less, but when three of our most senior players lost their heads and started shoving the referee, that was when all of our hard work went down the drain. What should've been a great run in the competition, a proud and valiant attempt by a Cambodian club to make a major impact in an international club cup competition, and very nearly a great comeback in the final, went out of the window. Big-time. What happened after the final whistle was inexcusable from both teams and both clubs must face the music for that as well. I'm gutted, we are all gutted, but we let ourselves down by our actions in what should've been our finest hour.
Coach David Booth at the post-match press conference
The Crown squad collect their medals
The Crown squad wait to receive their medals at the closing ceremony
A very subdued Crown team after the match
Match action from last night. The bulk of the spectators are on the far side.
The Taiwan Power Company line-up
Thul Sothearith greets the AFC Vice-President Prince Abdullah Shah
The expectant Crown bench before the kick-off
The Crown players awaiting the VIP handshakes
Before the game kicks-off, its time for VIP introductions
The Crown starting line-up awaits pre-match formalities
Nervous moments in the tunnel before the game
Final words of encouragement from coach David Booth to his starting eleven
In the dressing rooms moments before the players leave
Tactical-talk from the Crown coaches
Players in their dressing-room cubicles
Head coach David Booth explaining how he wants his team to play
Ugly scenes at the final whistle, instigated by Taipower (photo courtesy of

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Crown go down 2-3 in the Final

Taiwan Power Company celebrate their cup success
Phnom Penh Crown lost 2-3 to Taiwan Power Company (aka Taipower) in tonight's Final of the AFC President's Cup. But the scoreline tells only half the story. With Crown pushing hard for an equalizer as the clock ran down into four minutes of added-on time at the end of a pulsating cup final, referee Marai Mohammed Alawaji from Saudi Arabia, refused to award the Cambodian team a nailed-on penalty when Hong Ratana evaded two defenders in the penalty area but was caught on the ankle by Tu Ming-Feng. The referee waved play on but was immediately surrounded by a posse of Crown players, incensed by his non-decision, and in quick succession, three players pushed the official in the chest. After order was restored and a consultation with his linesmen, Alawaji flashed the red card to Sun Sovannrithy, Chan Chaya and San Narith for their actions. The final whistle blew soon after and as the Taipower players began to celebrate, substitute Kuao-Kai Pan raced from the bench to attack Hong Ratana from behind, sparking a mass brawl between players from both sides that only subsided when the head coaches intervened. It was a shocking end to a fiery cup final that also saw Taipower lose Yu-Lin Chen to a straight red card with 12 minutes remaining, for a shirt pull on Sok Pheng as he was running through on goal. Crown head coach David Booth's reaction was one of obvious disappointment. "We made too many mistakes today and it's cost us. We fought back in the game and in the last five minutes we could've equalized. The referee decided not to give us anything. It was a definite penalty, our player chested the ball down past two players and was brought down. The referee has got to be answerable for his decision, though I'd like to see it again. At the end, we saw the frustration of our players. Overall we did well. We could've lost by a bigger margin but we fought back and I'm just sorry for the players that they didn't get the chance to equalize."

Fielding an unchanged line-up for the third game, Crown went behind in the third minute when Kuo Ying-Hung evaded Odion Obadin on the bye-line and his floated center was headed in by an unmarked He Ming-Chan. Despite that setback, Crown pushed on and Kouch Sokumpheak's bye-line cross was mis-controlled in the box by Chan Chaya, whilst a dangerous low center by Sun Sovannrithy was turned behind under pressure. On the twenty minute mark, Chaya's quick feet failed to control a Sokumpheak pass though the striker was upended by Chien-Wei Liang as the ball ran through to keeper Pan Wei-Chih. Crown's equalizer came on 35 minutes when Kingsley Njoku fired home from ten yards after Thul Sothearith's cross was chested down by Khim Borey in the box and Njoku applied the finishing touch. Yi-Wei Chen saw a header fizz well wide after he made a good run into a dangerous area, whilst Crown keeper Peng Bunchhay showed his agility to claw away a free-kick from Ying-Hung a few minutes before the interval. Njoku's forceful run was halted when his shot was blocked and Chaya's intended pass to Sokumpheak was cut out in the last action of the first-half.

As they'd done in the first-half, Taipower took the lead in the third minute after the restart. Po-Liang Chen evaded Tieng Tiny's challenge and fed He Ming-Chan, and the striker made no mistake with his sixth goal of the tournament, firing low across the face of Bunchhay in the Crown goal. Crown were certainly not finding favour with the Saudi Arabian referee, who booked Sothearith and Obadin but failed to reach for his cards for similar infractions by the home team. On 63 minutes, referee Alawaji felt he saw a trip from Obadin on Po-Liang Chen, though the defender, and his teammates, protested his innocence, but justice was done when Kai-Chun Hung skied the penalty kick high and wide. Njoku and Sokumpheak combined to harry the Taipower defence but to no avail and on 67 minutes, the host team increased their lead. Kai-Chun Hung's byeline cross was fumbled by Bunchhay and Po-Liang Chen was on hand to tap the ball home, much to the delight of the paltry 3, 238 home crowd. Crown introduced striker Sok Pheng and as he moved onto a Chaya pass, his shirt was pulled as he shaped to shoot and the referee had no alternative but to dismiss Yu-Lin Chen on 78 minutes. With Crown forcing the issue, a San Narith corner evaded the punch of keeper Pan Wei-Chih and Sun Sovannrithy had the easy task to nod home at the far post with 7 minutes remaining. Game on. As the clock ticked over into four minutes of additional time, Narith's pass fell to Sokumpheak but his half-volley went straight to Wei-Chih, as did Obadin's header from a Chaya corner kick before the penalty appeal, that referee Alawaji waved away. The fracas that followed took the shine off a fabulous Crown performance in the competition that stumbled at the final hurdle but will be remembered for taking Crown further than ever before in the AFC President's Cup.
Crown line-up: Bunchhay, Sovannrithy, Sothearith, Tiny (Sovan 66), Obadin, Narith, Sopanha (Ratana 80), Borey (S Pheng 68), Chaya, Njoku, Sokumpheak. Subs not used: Visokra, Dara, Vanthan, Virak, Sophanal, Sophta, H Pheng. Bookings: Tiny, Sothearith, Obadin, Chaya, Sopanha. Sent off: Sovannrithy, Chaya, Narith.
The Crown players and officials line up to receive their runners-up medals
The Crown players looking non-plussed after an attack on them by the Taipower bench at the final whistle
The Crown line-up for tonight's game. Back Row LtoR: Njoku, Tiny, Sovannrithy, Obadin, Sothearith, Bunchhay. Front Row: Borey, Sokumpheak, Chaya Narith, Sopanha
Crown line up before the VIP handshakes
The man at the center of the controversy, the Saudi Arabian referee catches his coin, with Crown skipper Thul Sothearith (blue)
The Crown team waiting in the tunnel before the game

Final updates

For the AFC President's Cup Final in a few hours, I will attempt to update the Phnom Penh Crown Facebook page with regular reports throughout the match, though my lap-top battery has died on me on both previous occasions, with about 10-15 minutes of the matches remaining. So I'll have to use it sparingly at the beginning of tonight's game. My power-lead also isn't working at the stadium and no-one else's connection is the same as mine. These things are sent to try us. The Crown starting line-up is unchanged from our first two matches as coach David Booth sticks with his tried and tested team. There is no live television coverage outside of Taiwan, despite a last-ditch attempt to get this arranged, so Crown fans will either have to get the updated score from Facebook or other online football result services like I'll be online later tonight to bring you the result and the story behind the result, but it will be very late. You have been warned.

Saudi in charge

At the team manager's meeting yesterday, I asked for the match officials details for tonight's AFC President's Cup Final. The referee's director refused to provide it and said it would follow later by email. Presumably, they hadn't decided at that time who would be in the middle for the cup final. I was hoping for the South Korean referee, Kim Jong Hyeok, who was spot-on in his officiating for our match against Neftchi. However, the AFC later told us that the referee would be Alawaji Marai Mohammed from Saudi Arabia, with Saudi and Bahrain linesmen. Crown haven't had them during this tournament, though they were in charge when Taipower beat FC Istiklol earlier in the competition. That was the game that was totally ruined by the waterlogged pitch.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


On arrival at Fengshan, there's a game already going on
What a shambles. The most important thing to go wrong today was Phnom Penh Crown's final training session before the AFC President's Cup Final, which takes place at 7pm tomorrow night. We had delayed our session so that head coach David Booth and team captain Thul Sothearith could attend the pre-Final press conference. We put ourselves out for the AFC. After it finished, we headed to the Fengshan Stadium, some 40 minutes driving-time from the hotel, for our 90 minutes training session. It never took place. On the pitch when we arrived was a girl's match and they refused to budge. Frantic phone calls to the AFC and the local organizing committee produced no successful outcome, so the Crown squad were forced to train on the rubber athletic track surrounding the pitch. This made it impossible for David Booth and his players, especially his goalkeepers, to do anything other than stretches, running and passing. The day before the most important game in Crown's history and we are seriously disadvantaged by the local committee, who later called and said they'd made a mistake and sent us to the wrong location. My arse. We play against the host team, Taipower tomorrow and any advantage they can get, they will take . What a coincidence that we are sent to a training facility where we cannot train adequately. The suits at the AFC have to seriously look into this fiasco or they will be tainted by the stench that is coming out of this very smelly situation.

But that's not all. At the team manager's meeting just after noon, rules and regulations are read out, everyone nods and it's sorted. Not on this occasion. Phnom Penh Crown have been drawn as the home team for the final. That effectively gives them first dibs on team colours, dressing room, etc. However, Taipower wanted to wear their second playing kit as they'd won their last game wearing it. The jersey is red, the same colour as Crown's. We stuck to our guns and said we will play in our first-choice kit. The AFC suits suggested Taipower wear their second strip and change their shorts, but the hosts complained that it would look "ugly." Then to our amazement, the AFC agreed to Taipower's request and rode roughshod over their own gentleman's understanding, making Crown change their complete playing strip and also the goalkeeper's colours as well. So much for being drawn at home. The hosts got exactly what they wanted and the AFC caved into their demands. I'm still scratching my head over how this was allowed to happen by the AFC suits.
"We won't accept this treatment, will we!" David Booth tells his squad
The surface only allowed stretching, running and simple passing
"Get a good stretch, you make history tomorrow."
"Do you catch my drift," says coach David Booth, alongside Sun Sopanha
Khim Borey listens to head coach David Booth's words at today's shortened training session

Friday, September 23, 2011

Taipower get to final

Taiwan Power Company line-up tonight (courtesy of
Phnom Penh Crown will meet the host team, Taiwan Power Company (aka Taipower), in the final of the AFC President's Cup on Sunday 25 September, after they overcame a 3-1 deficit to grab a 4-3 victory when it looked as though they were heading out of the competition tonight. Backed by a paltry crown of just over 2,000, Taiwan Power were hit a double body blow with two goals from FC Balkan's nippy striker Amir Gurbani, in the 24th and 25th minutes. Thinking they were heading to the final as they coasted at the start of the 2nd half, the Balkan coach replaced Gurbani on 55 minutes and from then on it went pear-shaped. Two minutes later Ming-Chan He netted for Taiwan and even though Balkan went further ahead through Garahanov a few minutes later, the tide was beginning to turn in the home side's favour. A soft penalty was converted by He to make it 2-3 and with less than ten minutes to go, Taiwan snatched a third goal that would be enough to send them to the final, as they only needed a draw. Skipper Yin-Hung Kuo poked it home at the second attempt and then Po-Liang Chen added the icing on the cake with three minutes to go. Balkan lost their heads and two players to red cards in time added on.
The Crown squad were watching tonight's match and their cup final opponents
In the final match of Crown's Group B, effectively a dead rubber between Neftchi from Kyrgyzstan and Yadanarbon, the qualifying round winners from Phnom Penh, showed their power in thrashing the Myanmar team 8-2, scoring no less than six goals in the final 16 minutes. Just after the half hour mark Neftchi had opened up a two-goal lead but were pegged back two minutes after the break to 2-2. Then all hell let loose in the final quarter as Yadanarbon simply caved in time after time. Pavel Pavlov claimed a hat-trick, Talaibek Dzhumataev scored twice, as did Ruslan Djamshidov, with Raul Dzhalilov also netting. Pai Soe and an own goal were the Yadanarbon scorers. The Myanmar coach complained that his players were tired, made mistakes and didn't have enough rest between games. Neftchi meanwhile were just happy to have the experience of playing in this competition.
The Taipower team celebrate reaching the final with their supporters

Fun and hard work

Some tired bodies after the hour-long training session this morning
After having yesterday off, the Phnom Penh Crown squad were back at the training field early this morning for a 7.30am session. The hour-long stint at the national training center in the shadow of the Kaohsiung national stadium began with some stretches, followed by a couple of fun exercises and then down to the serious one-touch four-a-side games. A two-touch half-pitch sized game followed and coach David Booth finished off with some sprinting just to make sure the players were in tip-top shape ahead of Sunday's AFC President's Cup final. Later tonight, the team will travel the fifteen minutes to the stadium to watch the Taiwan Power Company versus FC Balkan (from Turkmenistan) match, which will determine who Crown face in the final. The hosts only need a draw to qualify.
David Booth issues instructions at training this morning
Sprints brought an end to this morning's session
I don't think Kouch Sokumpheak has seen a camera before - he doesn't get out much
The team having some fun at training this morning
Catch-ball brought some light relief to the session
There's time for fun during the hard work in preparation for Sunday's final
When the whistle blows, find a partner or two
The bibs-team listening to instructions
Taking note - Sovannrithy, Sothearith, Chaya and Ratana

Thursday, September 22, 2011


The two men making the headlines, keeper Peng Bunchhay and goalscorer Kingsley Njoku
At his post-match press conference last night, Phnom Penh Crown coach David Booth was asked about two of his players, double goalscorer Kingsley Njoku and goal-stopper, keeper Peng Bunchhay. The head coach didn't pull his punches. "Six weeks ago, he [Kingsley Njoku] wasn't really sure of a place. He wasn't performing like this in the league and then suddenly in the last three games of the season, he stepped up a gear, scored goals, looked sharper and that got him into the team. There was a chance he wasn't going to come at one point. He's very strong, he's full of confidence now and it shows. He's holding the ball up and we have speedy players to play off him." Njoku has netted three times in the two matches Crown have won in this latter stage to reach Sunday's final. He also missed the opportunity of adding to his tally when he fired an 8th minute penalty against the foot of the upright. The Nigerian hitman, who scored 10 goals in the Metfone C-League campaign that's just finished, scored a single goal in the qualifying stage which puts him on 4 goals going into the final game. Ahead of him on five goals are Yadanarbon's Yan Paing and Istiklol's Farkhod Tokhirov. As for his number one goalkeeper, Peng Bunchhay, Booth was full of praise. "Chhay is a good keeper. He's been very good since I've been here. Actually, he's been terrific. He works hard in training and he's made a few good saves to keep us in the game tonight. He's also quite brave, coming out with his hands and his head not his feet." It's a mystery to most regular watchers of the Cambodian League as to why Bunchhay has not been called up into the national team squad, despite a string of impressive performances for his club and his league championship medal.

David Booth's other comments at the press conference included; "We are the underdogs at this level and we've just set about trying to improve game by game. We are improving every week. We missed a lot of chances against Neftchi but tonight some of those chances went in. We still missed a penalty, we still missed a very easy header and by half-time it could've been over and done with. The second-half was always going to be difficult because our players probably have never been 3-0 up at half-time before and the biggest problem we had was trying to keep them cool, calm and collected. We started to get a little bit scrappy but we kept a clean sheet, which is very important... We always felt we could win but we didn't want to say so. I thought we started the game in terrific fashion. The players worked very hard, they tried to do everything I asked of them, they're getting back behind the ball when we need to and they break very fast. We've got good speed, which scares people. Now we're in the final, we need to win it."

Winning feeling

Coach David Booth congratulates Kouch Sokumpheak on another sublime performance
These are a few more pictures from yesterday. Today is a rest and relaxation day for the Phnom Penh Crown playing and coaching staff. They had their usual mid-day team meeting and the players can swim in the pool, go for a walk or sleep in their rooms, it's up to them. Training will re-start tomorrow morning at 7.30am, before breakfast. In today's team meeting, coach David Booth told his squad of players the following;
"We need to cut out the little mistakes, the small things. I've waited a long time since I came here to see the easy goal. Yesterday we scored the perfect, easy goal because we were very clever... We've said all along that you can do this, and now it's important that you do not change your attitude, your style, because if we do not perform in the final on Sunday, it will be for nothing. The way you played yesterday, everyone is talking that you can win. The problem is if we think it's all over. You have won two games because of the hard work you put in, so don't change your style now. It's not about me, it's all about you. You are the ones who've worked to win these games, to put yourselves in this position. I respect you so much for this. I want you to look back at this and see how you won. Grab hold of this winning feeling and take it into Sunday's game. You've worked your socks off and now you have the chance to go back to Cambodia as a winner, something no-one has ever done before... If we stick together, and work together, we can win together. Sunday's game, whoever we play, will be harder because it's the final. It boils down to which team has the biggest desire, the most determination and who grabs the chance with both hands...The game on Sunday is about our pride and our team performance. This is what we are here for. Nobody will give us anything - you have to take it yourselves."
Sun Sovannrithy taking a deep breath after the 4-0 success
The Crown substitutes are up and waiting to cheer their teammates on the pitch
The important half-time team talk against Yadanarbon
"Keep it tight for 20 minutes of the 2nd half - don't concede," says coach David Booth
Swapping club pennants with Thul Sothearith in red
Crown line-up for the pre-match handshakes
Warming-up for Khim Borey and Odion Obadin
Kouch Sokumpheak and Sun Sopanha take a good stretch before the match
The 4th official and match commissioner check the playing kit and player id's before the game
Time for another pep-talk from the head coach
An early morning stretch and warm up in the hotel corridor, with a few words from David Booth
A screenshot of Chan Chaya celebrating his goal against Neftchi in the 1st game
That is the back-end of Kingsley Njoku, celebrating with the corner flag, his goal against Neftchi