Saturday, March 31, 2012

Uni delight

Western Uni's matchwinner Korng Sopheak
In today's Metfone C-League matches, Western Uni posted their first win of the new season against the club most pundits believe will be joining them in the relegation places cum the end of the campaign, beating Chhlam Samuth 3-1. In the second game of the day, National Police continued their 100% start to the season, with three wins in three, this time a convincing 4-0 success over BBU.
Western Uni didn't have it all their own way and Chhlam Samuth nosed in front three minutes before the break. The Uni defence were guilty of ball-watching as Chan Youhan's cross sailed to the far post where Sunday Ayodele got the decisive touch. Within six minutes of the restart, Western were back on level terms when Hy Sokveng was on hand to volley in Long Boran's bye-line cross. It was pretty much even until two moments of individual magic by Uni substitute Korng Sopheak in the last seven minutes turned the game on its head. He picked up the ball on the edge of the box, looked up and unleashed a powerful drive that sailed over the goalkeeper's head and into the net. With just two minutes to go Sopheak repeated the feat in almost identical fashion, as he spotted the keeper five yards off his goal-line and gave him no chance. Two goals of real quality will give the university team a much-needed boost in confidence.
Western stand strong and win their 1st CPL game of the season
Chhlam Samuth look like they face a long, hard season ahead
Table-topping National Police have made a strong start to the new season beating Naga, Boeung Ket and now BBU. This coming Wednesday, they face Phnom Penh Crown and their tails couldn't be any higher. In Nelson Oladiji they have a striker who we all know can score goals. So far this season, his strike-ratio has improved in leaps and bounds and grabbing all four goals in Police's 4-0 victory, has posted a 'watch-out notice' to CPL defences for the rest of the season. There wasn't much to choose between the two teams for the first hour though Police, using three foreigners in their line-up this season, offered more in attack than a subdued BBU. On 62 minutes Srey Udom fed Oladiji and his backward header looped over the keeper from ten yards out to put Police ahead. Tith Dina was denied by a great save from Sos Proshim, but the keeper had no chance to stop Oladiji's 2nd on 69 minutes after Say Piseth's header struck the upright and Oladiji was on hand to tap home. With the weak floodlights threatening to ruin the game, the Police extended their lead when Noun Borey's shot was saved only for the rebound to fall to Oladiji and his aim was true from three yards out, with five minutes left on the clock. Two minutes from time and Oladiji gobbled up his fourth and it couldn't have been easier. Proshim came to collect a high ball but dropped it onto the toe of the tall Nigerian striker who took advantage of the gift and poked the ball over the line. It was child's play and 3 wins in 3 for the Police.
The National Police, and Nelson Oladiji (back row, 2nd right) were on song again today
BBU were missing some regulars and crashed to a 4-0 defeat to Police

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Booth has his say

Coach David Booth getting his point across in a training session
Phnom Penh Crown's head coach David Booth hasn't been too accustomed to defeats during his tenure with the club. This afternoon, he suffered his second one in just three games at the start of the new C-League campaign. This is what he had to say at the final whistle after watching his team lose 1-2 to NagaCorp.

"I thought we played well until we scored. We started well, stopped them from playing, we closed them down well but as soon as we scored, the game seemed to change and we stopped working as hard as we did. We allowed them to come back into the game. At half-time, we talked about starting the 2nd half the same way we'd started the game but we were fast asleep for the first minute for the goal. No excuse for that, just bad marking. Until we mark and start playing the way we should play, we are going to have these problems. As coaches, we can only work with them - we cannot play the game for them."

"I thought defensively, we were very naive today, not doing the right things at the right times. The last 20 minutes we changed and to be fair Naga had a real problem. We had chances, we had good pressure, we got behind them, we got the ball to the strikers, the ball into the box and we had some good chances but unfortunately nothing came of it. If we weren't making chances then that would be a problem. We should've scored more today to be fair, but we suffered because we didn't defend well enough in the 1st minute after half time. We suffered and it should be a lesson learned."

"Our team is different from last season. In all honesty, it's probably not as strong. We have to look at the way we brought players into the club, what choices did we have, and what did we get from those choices. It was always going to be a little difficult this year. But we have to grin and bear it and try to work through it. All games this season are going to be hard until we get together, and work together to put things right. At the moment we are very haphazard in the way that we pass the ball and how we defend and mark players. For the last two days in training, we worked on defensive situations - so there's no excuse really for the 2nd goal today."

Sloppy at both ends

Determination etched on the face of Crown's Odion Obadin before the match
Defending that my grandmother would've been ashamed of allowed NagaCorp to earn themselves a cheap 2-1 win over Phnom Penh Crown this afternoon in the only Metfone C-League midweek game at Olympic Stadium. To switch off either side of the half-time break after taking a 23rd minute lead through a fabulous Khim Borey goal was nothing short of criminal negligence. And two chances that went begging to level the game late on were equally culpable. Let's call it a bad day at the office but with this second defeat in their first three league matches, it's not the start to a new season that PPCFC and their supporters expect. With an unchanged line-up and facing a Naga team with three of last season's Crown squad (Sopanha, Sothearith, Nwafor), David Booth's men began confidently, so much so that Odion Obadin even tried a 40-yeard free-kick that sailed harmlessly over. Emmanuel Frimpong undoubtedly has a sweet left-footed range of passes and an inch-perfect 30-yarder on 23 minutes, picked out Khim Borey's run into the box. Borey, who played with Frimpong at Sisaket last season, controlled it and dinked it over the Naga keeper as he came off his line. A goal of sublime quality to put Crown in front. Whether the Crown players felt one goal was enough is hard to say but from that point on, they took their foot off the gas. The sprightly Chuon Chum left Tieng Tiny and Obadin in his wake as he bore down on goal, only to screw his shot wide of the far post, but the writing was on the wall. With three minutes to go before the half-time break, a quick throw-in caught Crown cold, Teab Vathanak crossed and Chum rose unopposed to loop a header over Yok Ary's slow-motion dive for the equalizer.

With David Booth's half-time warning to pick up at free-kicks and corners ringing in their ears, the Crown defence did exactly the opposite. Just two minutes into the second-half a lofted Sun Sopanha free-kick from the left-wing found Neang Chenla in acres of space and his header bounced across Ary and into the far corner. It was a kick in the guts. Just four minutes later Kouch Sokumpheak thought he'd levelled but the match officials were unmoved. Ouk Sothy's cross to the far post saw Sokumpheak send his diving header goalwards, only for Naga keeper Phorn Ratana to claw the ball away from the goal-line with one hand and referee Yien Kivatanak waved play on. From the resulting Borey corner kick, Sokumpheak's looping header was heading for the top corner before Ratana palmed it from under the cross-bar. At the other end, Yok Ary kept Teab Vathanak's up-and-over free-kick out with a one-handed push over. A couple of minutes later and Naga sub Shola Lawal's rolled shot spun wide of the target and later, Tieng Tiny blocked his goal-bound drive after he skated past two defenders and raced into the box. Sothy thought he'd netted until his hooked shot was headed clear by Nofiu Lawal but Crown will look at two misses in the final stages of the game that should've earned them at least a point. On 82 minutes, a hurried punch-out by Naga keeper Ratana found Borey lying in wait twenty yards from goal, but his return looping header sailed wide of the gaping net by a foot. Two minutes later the miss of the match fell to American import and substitute Melvin Tarley. Sothy ghosted to the bye-line and his perfect pull-back to Tarley on the six-yard box looked a certain equalizer. Instead, Tarley leaned back and watched in horror as his left-foot shot sailed well over the cross-bar. Everyone stood in open-mouthed amazement. That was the last chance of the game as Naga held out for a 2-1 success that they will know was handed to them on a plate.
PPCFC v Naga: Ary, Rady, Sovan, Tiny, Obadin (S Pheng 76), Dara, Sothy, Frimpong, Suhana (Tarley 58), Borey, Sokumpheak. Subs not used: Chamrouen, Seyha, Vanthan, Lika, Sophanal, Rathanak, Sovanna, Makara, H Pheng. Bookings: Tarley, Rady, Frimpong, Tiny.
Crown V NagaCorp: Back Row LtoR: Tiny, Sovan, Dara, Frimpong, Obadin, Borey. Front: Rady, Suhana, Ary, Sothy, Sokumpheak
The Crown bench just before kick-off
NagaCorp line-up for the photographers
A pre-match pep-talk inside the Crown dressing room

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Lifting the cup

Sraing Titchhy holds the championship trophy surrounded by his Academy teammates having just won the U-14 Champions League for the 2nd year running
The Phnom Penh Crown U-14 teams were successful in capturing both of the Barclays Capital Indochina Starfish Foundation Championships on offer at the end-of-season play-offs at the Army Stadium on Sunday. They shared the day with a series of games between teams made up of deaf players. The work that the Starfish Foundation do in giving children between the ages of 10-18 the opportunity to take part in regular sporting activities, in this case football, both boys and girls, as well as learning fundamental values of sportsmanship and the rights and wrongs of addictive behaviour, are to be highly commended.
The Crown U-14 B-Team took the championship trophy with a 3-2 success over KDFO's Blue Flag team (photos courtesy ISF)

Monday, March 26, 2012

In pictures

Crown line-up ready for the handshakes
A few more pictures from yesterday's feast of football, both at the Army Stadium where the two U-14 Crown teams carried off both the Barclays Capital ISF trophies on offer and at the Olympic Stadium, where the first-team came out on top against Western Uni. A good day at the office you could say. Kao Kiry took charge of the Academy team in the absence of Bouy Dary who is in New Zealand with his Academy captain Phoeun Sopheak for a week. They are both at the Asia Pacific Football Academy, Crown's partners, where Sopheak is undergoing a week's development program with boys from Mexico and Argentina as well as training with the main APFA Academy squad every afternoon.
Referee Neang Sorithya in mid-toss with the captains
Kouch Sokumpheak, the Crown skipper, leads out his team
Kouch Sokumpheak (10) focuses on the game ahead
The less than salubrious changing rooms at Olympic Stadium at half-time with the Crown team
In Sodavid leads out the Academy team in the U-14 Champions League final
In Sodavid, Orn Chanpolin and Sraing Titchhy prepare for the final
Kao Kiry takes the Academy team for the final in the absence of head coach Bouy Dary
Ken Chansopheak and Orn Chanpolin showing a distinct difference in height

Hat-trick of penalties

The last remaining Metfone C-League match that I haven't mentioned which was played at the weekend was the early kick-off on Sunday between Naga and BBU. I only really caught the 2nd half of the game and it was pretty one-sided as BBU had to contend with a resurgent Naga line-up as well as referee Chi Samedy, the newest addition to the referee's panel. Included in the Naga team for the 1st time were the refugees from Phnom Penh Crown, Sun Sopanha and Thul Sothearith, who both left the club in disgrace after their indiscipline in the AFC President's Cup final last term cost them an 8-game ban. Naga were gifted an early penalty, taken and converted by Chuon Chum, the first of a hat-trick of penalties from the veteran frontman. After the break, he was on target again after BBU keeper Hem Simay tried to maim Kop Isa. Simay was lucky to stay on, though his colleague Nhim Sovannara went soon after, for a 2nd yellow card, for a strong shoulder. Six minutes from time, Rim Bunhieng, the BBU central defender with a penchant for losing his cool, forearm smashed Naga's debut boy Shola Lawal and saw red too. A minute later In Vireak left his foot in on Lawal, who was coming in for some rough treatment, and he took an early bath too, reducing BBU to eight players. From the resultant penalty Chum celebrated his hat-trick of spot-kicks. Then it was the turn of Lawal to give BBU some payback with a deflected goal in time added on to make it 4-0 to NagaCorp. So a record of won 1, lost 1 for Naga, the same as Phnom Penh Crown, who they meet in a tasty re-run of last season's championship run-in this Wednesday. The match is scheduled for a 3pm start at Olympic Stadium and don't be surprised for more fireworks from the likes of Sun Sopanha if he starts the game.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

More Academy success

Beaming smiles from Sath Rozak and Ken Chansopheak after their 2-0 cup final success
Today was cup final day for the Phnom Penh Crown Academy and the non-Academy youngsters who turn out every Sunday in the Barclays Capital-sponsored ISF U-14 league competitions. Both had won their way through to the play-off final and kicked-off at the same time at the Army Stadium earlier this afternoon. The Academy team had already won 10 out of 10 matches in the Champions League competition and then beat the Flying Tigers 5-1 in last weekend's semi-final. Their cup final opponents were none other than their main rivals Preah Khan Reach, beaten 4-0 in their league meeting, so itching for revenge. Playing thirty minute halves, Crown took the lead after eight minutes when Yeu Muslim's cross was diverted past his own keeper by a PKR defender. That was just after skipper In Sodavid had flashed a shot against the cross-bar. At the other end, keeper Chhuot Senteang pushed a free-kick onto the Crown bar. Eight minutes after the restart, Vat Samnang continued his habit of scoring important goals, when he raced past his marker and fired in a vicious shot from an acute angle for Crown's second goal. Moments later, Sodavid crashed a shot against an upright. No more goals though a few near misses and Crown were jumping for joy at the final whistle, after teaching their rivals another footballing lesson. In the mixed B-team with four Academy players, they met KDFO's Blue Flag in the U-14 Premier League final and were also cock-a-hoop after winning 3-2 with Svang Samnang scoring twice and Ly Heng grabbing the winner. A perfect day at the ISF finals for the Crown youngsters.
The PPCFC team for the 1st half. Back: Sakrovy, Senteang, Sovann, Baraing. Front: Sodavid, Muslim, Ponvuthy, Piphop, Rozak
The 2nd half line-up. Back: Titchhy, Sovann, Sodavid, Senteang, Chanpolin. Front: Samnang, Noeut, Piphop, Sakrovy
The 17-strong PPCFC Academy squad for the ISF Champions League final
The U-14 Premier League squad representing PPCFC

Frimpong on target

Crown v Western. Back Row LtoR: Tiny, Obadin, Frimpong, Dara, Sovan. Front: Rady, Suhana, Ary, Sothy, Sokumpheak, Borey
Phnom Penh Crown got their Metfone C-League title defence back on track this afternoon, beating Western University 2-0 at the Olympic Stadium, to post their first win of the new campaign, but they know they can do better. Coach David Booth tinkered with his starting line-up after their loss to Preah Khan and with Henry Asonibe carrying a foot injury, giving Chan Dara a place as the midfield anchor and Sok Sovan was moved to left-back to allow Tieng Tiny to partner Odion Obadin at the back. Crown dominated possession for the whole game, but it took them twenty minutes to get their first shot on target, a Khim Borey drive that went straight to the keeper. Five minutes later and Emmanuel Frimpong's pull-back from the bye-line ended up at the feet of Sos Suhana but his hastily-struck shot smashed against the cross-bar. Crown finally broke the deadlock on 33 minutes. Borey's cross found Frimpong, who played a one-two with Kouch Sokumpheak, chested down his chipped return and planted a right-foot shot past the Western keeper. It was a sweet moment for the Ghanaian newcomer to Crown's ranks. Borey ballooned another shot over the top and then in the first minute of time added on at the end of the 1st half, he got the important touch with a headed pass that led to Crown's second goal. Frimpong poked it forward, Borey's header sent Sokumpheak goalside of the Western defence and he slotted his shot wide of the keeper to put his team two-up at the interval.

In the 2nd period, Crown continued their dominance but found their finishing in need of some polish. Suhana shot straight at keeper Ngoy Boranuch, Frimpong's 25-yarder fizzed inches wide of the upright and Sokumpheak failed to make the keeper work hard enough. A 40-yard cross-field Sokumpheak pass found Suhana running in on goal, only for the youngster to miss-control at the crucial moment. Two Crown substitutes went close to scoring, with Hong Pheng looking certain to score until a last minute intervention. Within thirty seconds of Melvin Tarley's arrival, his first-time left-foot strike appeared to be heading for the corner before Boranuch pulled off a fine diving save to turn it for a corner. And that was it. Western offered little in offense but worked hard to keep the scoreline looking respectable.
PPCFC v Western Uni: Ary, Rady, Sovan, Tiny (Seyha 76), Obadin, Dara, Sothy, Frimpong, Suhana (Tarley 80), Borey (H Pheng 57), Sokumpheak (capt). Subs not used: Chamrouen, Da, Vanthan, Lika, Sophanal, Sovanna, S Pheng, Makara. Bookings: H Pheng, Obadin.

Crown head coach David Booth felt his side must do better. "I'm happy that we got a victory, we were never in any danger in the game. But to have so much of the ball, then to give the ball away so many times - we work every day in training at passing, passing, passing and to give the ball away like that is almost criminal. All the work that we do and we just can't keep the ball and make the right pass at the right time is just frustrating. We can play a whole lot better than that. I thought we'd have got another goal (in the 2nd half). I thought we played some decent football at times, especially towards the end of the game. But if we're not going to pass the ball properly, we're wasting the work we are putting together. We'll have to play a lot better against Naga and there might be changes for that game."
In the dressing room with goalscorer Kouch Sokumpheak at half-time
Last minute instructions from David Booth before the first whistle
Plucky Western Uni who did well to keep it at 2-0

Next up, Western

Phnom Penh Crown look to get their Metfone C-League championship defense back on track this afternoon when they face the newcomers Western University at the Olympic Stadium at 4.30pm. Following Wednesday's defeat at the hands of Preah Khan Reach, it's imperative that David Booth's charges come out fighting and show their mettle against a team they've already beaten a couple of times in friendly pre-season warm-up matches. Those results mean nothing in comparison to today's league encounter, and Crown will want to recapture the invincibility that they showed in last season's league campaign, losing only once all term.

Booth selects from a 22-man squad for the game but will miss combative midfielder Henry Asonibe, who is out with a foot injury. In his place comes another foreign import, Melvin Tarley, with bags of experience at the top levels of American football, for his first taste of C-League action. Whether Booth puts him in from the start, or uses him from the bench, remains to be seen. Also included are Sok Pheng, back from injury and goalkeeper Sam Chamrouen. For Western, they will be seeking to add to their opening day point they gained with a meritable goal-less draw against the Army, even though they lost Etim Esin to a red card and he'll miss today's game. Crown will have just a few days rest before they take on their rivals Naga Corp on Wednesday (28 March) with a 3pm starting time.
Crown squad v Western Uni: Ary, Chamrouen, Dara, Vanthan, Seyha, Rady, Da, Tiny, Sovan, Lika, Sophanal, Sothy, Sovanna, Suhana, Sokumpheak, Borey, H Pheng, S Pheng, Makara, Obadin, Frimpong, Tarley.

The Crown Academy boys have their own date with destiny at 1pm at the Army Stadium, when they meet Preah Khan Reach in the U-14 Barclays Capital ISF Champions League final. They were head and shoulders above everyone else in the normal league matches, winning 10 out of 10 matches and scoring 120 goals without conceding one, but the league is decided by way of a play-off and that final is taking place today. The PPCFC B-team are also in the final of the U-14 Premier League and meet Blue Flag, also at 1pm.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Shock and awe

National Police go top, for a while, with 2 wins out of 2
Well, okay so the headline is a bit over the top, but a National Police Commissary victory over Boeung Ket was a bit of a shock, certainly to the Rubbermen who fully expected to win, whilst you must give Preah Khan their dues for demolishing the Sea Sharks of Chhlam Samuth. With the kick-off delayed by thirty minutes, it was the Police who got into their stride the quicker in the 1st game of the day. Nov Soseila was revelling in his return to Metfone C-League action, after his former club the Army kept him from playing for Naga last term, and was bounding up and down the right wing, throwing himself to the ground to try and get free-kicks whenever possible. When he did stay on his feet, his pass inside to Sim Vuth gave his colleague the opportunity to curl one into the top corner from the edge of the box, for the opening goal on 15 minutes. Ten minutes later, Boeung Ket took a quick free-kick after a backpass was picked up by the Police keeper and Friday Nwakuna tapped home, only for referee Thong Chankethya, never far from controversy, to rule it out. Nwakuna was upset and made everyone aware of it. Eight minutes from the break and the Police were in seventh heaven as new signing Nelson Oladiji tapped home from four yards after the Rubbermen failed to clear a Soseila corner that was headed goalwards by Vutha. Boeung Ket's Sin Dalin, making his C-League debut for his new team after getting the thumbs up to play from the FFC, curled a free-kick against the cross-bar, as referee Chankethya saw out the first-half with two more bookings to take his caution count to four.

Just 18 seconds into the 2nd half and Oladiji should've put his team out of sight but his close range shot was blocked by the Rubbermen keeper's feet. Nwakuna swept a 20-yarder against the woodwork, whilst Chankethya was a little too quick to flash a 2nd yellow, and a red, to Police's Sim Vutha for an innocuous tap on 67 minutes. It really looked like the referee was trying to give Boeung Ket a fighting chance. They didn't disappoint him and with eleven minutes left on the clock, Keo Sokngorn was on hand to tap home after Sumaila Momoh's fizzing shot was too hot to handle. Despite a glut of corners to defend, the Police held firm and despite the referee adding on an extra five minues. In the third minute of that, Boeung Ket's Lar Pichseyla completely lost his marbles. He elbowed Joel Omoraka in the face and then launched himself, two-footed, at Srey Udom and deservedly saw a staright red card. It was a disgusting challenge and one which should get censure from the FFC. Udom isn't my favourite player by any means but he was lucky not to break a leg. The 2-1 win for the Police temporarily put them at the top of the table with six points from their two matches. For Boeung Ket it was a reminder that C-League life may be a bit harder than they first thought.

In the 2nd match of the day, Chhlam Samuth were hoping to catch Preah Khan Reach on an off day but had no such good fortune, losing 6-0. They must've been happy to see Khuon Laboravy limp off after twenty minutes but it was just the lull before the storm. Five minutes later Chea Samnang swept PKR into the lead and soon after missed an identical chance to extend it. Five minutes before the interval and Prak Mony Udom, revelling in his free role, turned on a sixpence and rifled in PKR's second, before Ros Samoeurn was denied by a goal-line clearance with the Navy team's only 1st half chance. PKR turned up the pressure on the restart and passed their way through the Sea Sharks midfield. They had a helping hand when Chhim Bunsan was unlucky to see a 2nd yellow on 57 minutes and walk for his early bath. Two minutes later a Pov Samnang late tackle on Phany Y Rotha gave Udom a spot-kick from which he made no mistake. On 66 minutes sub Chan Vathanaka broke down the left and buried a vicious shot for number four and two more goals in the last ten minutes from Sok Chanraksmey and a second for Chea Samnang sealed PKR's 2nd success in as many games and put them on top through goal difference.
Boeung Ket caught a cold against Police and Pichseyla deserves to have the book thrown at him
Chhlam Samuth got a mauling by Preah Khan, losing 6-0

Friday, March 23, 2012

Football natter

The grapevine tells me that the FFC have decided to delay the start times of the Metfone C-League matches on Saturday & Sunday this week by half an hour. The word is that it's too hot at the original 2pm kick-off, so they've put it back thirty minutes, to 2.30pm and 4.30pm respectively. How about going the whole hog and starting the first match at 4pm and the 2nd match at 6pm under floodlights. That way the teams won't be forced to play when it's hot enough to fry an egg on the roof of the substitute's bench. I haven't heard officially, but that's not surprising. There's less information coming out of the FFC than was ever released by the CIA, MI5 or the KGB at the height of their secretiveness.

I'm still agog at the non-selection of the Cambodian national coach Lee Tae-Hoon to take charge of the Cambodia U-22 squad that will compete in the brand new AFC U-22 Asian Cup Qualifying rounds in June. This man is supposed to be responsible for the national team. He's just taken charge of their dismal showing in the U-21 Brunei invitational tournament, losing four games out of four - with not a word from Lee or the FFC on their abysmal results by the way. So you'd think he'd be heavily involved in shaping the team going forwards, and finding the best young talent to mould for his AFF Suzuki Cup squad in October. Not according to the FFC. They've given the U-22s to someone else and parked Lee Tae-Hoon on the touchlines, either because he's on his way out when his contract expires in the middle of the year, or because they have completely lost the plot. I'd plump for the latter. In fact I know they lost the plot about 20 months ago when they appointed Lee in the first place. A man with no real coaching experience aside from two spells as an assistant bib-collector to the South Korean ladies team. No offence ladies, but please. With Lee out of the U-22 picture, one of the Prak family, Prak Somony has been given the task of bringing home the bacon, which of course will be an impossible task given they have games against North Korea, China, Thailand, Hong Kong and Laos. Read my lips, Cambodia will finish bottom of the group. The qualifiers begin at the end of June, yet the U-22s have already held trials and begun training sessions. Why I ask? It's March. We have just started the domestic football league, all the players are fit and well, most of the 25-man squad that the U-22s have announced played in the recent U-21 debacle, so they know each other very well. The players don't need to get together until late April at the very earliest. It's complete overkill and for a competition that they haven't got a cat-in-hell's chance of qualifying for.

I've seen the list of 25 players for this Cambodian U-22 squad. It has two Phnom Penh Crown players in it, Sok Sovan and Sos Suhana. Hong Pheng and Sok Pheng also went for trials but didn't get in. As a result Sok Pheng missed last Wednesday's game with an injury. The list has five players in it who according to a list of players' birthdates supplied by the FFC in 2009, are well over 22 years of age. All players eligible for this competition must be born on or after 1 January 1991. The five players, Prum Puthsethy, Chhun Sothearath, Touch Pancharong, Sou Yaty and Srey Udom are older than that. Presumably, there was an error back in 2009 with their birthdates and miraculously, their passports now show dates well within the deadline. How convenient. I also have serious doubts about the stated ages of players like Sok Rithy and Say Piseth. But a quick check of their passports will reveal that they really are much younger than they look. The scourge of age cheating is something that seems to forever hang around like a bad smell.

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC), the same body that Phnom Penh Crown came face to face with at close quarters in Taiwan for the AFC President's Cup Final last year and saw exactly how they operated, have had one of their meetings full of suits. The competitions committee have suggested that a country not recognised by FIFA and so they don't appear on the world rankings list, be admitted to play in next year's AFC Challenge Cup and AFC President’s Cup. The country is Northern Mariana Islands, who are an associate member of the AFC. Never heard of them? Join the club. Located in the Pacific Ocean, there are 15 islands making up the NMI, housing 50,000 people, and essentially come under the flag of the United States. Their nearest neighbours are Guam, who they play all their matches against.

New Zealand awaits

Phoeun Sopheak, off to New Zealand as part of his football development
Tomorrow is a the start of a big week for two members of the Phnom Penh Crown Elite Academy. Head coach Bouy Dary and one of his most promising young players, Phoeun Sopheak, are heading over to New Zealand as a bonus from the partnership arrangement that PPCFC have with the Asia Pacific Football Academy (APFA), who have their headquarters at Lincoln University, near Christchurch in New Zealand. APFA have helped Crown with their development programme from day 1 of the Academy and they in turn incorporate key principles and practices from Chelsea's own youth programs. The APFA run their own full-time residential football academy for boys aged 13-18 and they have a track record of developing young talent. Only last year, five of their scholars represented their country at the FIFA U-17 World Cup.

This is exactly the standard that Bouy Dary, recently tasked with leading the Cambodian U-14 national squad as well as the Crown Academy, will get to see at close quarters, assessing their coaching and evaluation programs, physical and mental conditioning, the use of video analysis and much more besides.
For 14-year-old Sopheak, clearly a young man with a footballing future, he will have the chance to mix with elite scholars to assess his current level of ability and get evaluation and assessment from APFA's coaches to maximize his ongoing long-term development. Probably something that no Cambodian youngster has ever had the opportunity to do before. With Dary and Sopheak catching their flight tomorrow, they will both miss the Academy's appearance in the Final of the Barclays Capital ISF U-14 Champions League on Sunday at the Army Stadium (1pm kick-off) against rivals Preah Khan Reach. However, this is an opportunity not to be missed and everyone at the club is excited for them both.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Army claim victory

There was one other Metfone C-League match played yesterday afternoon at Olympic Stadium. It wasn't anything to write home about as the Army managed to pull off a 1-0 win over Kirivong, who had only 1 of their Egyptian imports on show. Pov Phearith, who should've been shown two yellow cards but got only one, was the matchwinner 20 minutes into the 2nd half when he netted from the penalty spot after a needless handball by Kirivong skipper In Vichheka. There were some minor fisticuffs late on but neither team were really up for the fight and the game itself petered out into a pretty drab affair.

Build-up in pictures

The match referee in typical tossing mode, with the team captains in attendance
Let's take a look at the build-up to Phnom Penh Crown's first C-League game of the new season yesterday at the Olympic Stadium, in pictures. It was a baking hot afternoon and a 2pm kick-off is not conducive to fast, open football as everyone knows. Neither is a Wednesday afternoon the best time to attract the crowds, so the game kicked-off with just a few hundred spectators in the grandstand, sitting in the shade. A cool evening start, under floodlights, would be far more suitable for all concerned, especially the players who are subjected to temperatures that would fry an egg. The referee Thong Chankethya, not one of my favourites, kept a fairly low profile, only booking four players (1 from Crown and Khuon Laboravy for simulation) and steered clear of the controversial decisions he usually manages to insert into games he officiates in.
Kouch Sokumpheak leads out the Crown team into the baking hot sun
The Crown substitutes bench
Kouch Sokumpheak adjusts his captain's armband in the tunnel
Goalkeeper Yok Ary seeking inspiration from his Muslim faith
A prayer for Crown's three African players before they step onto the pitch
Skipper Kouch Sokumpheak in the warm-up
Khim Borey and Emmanuel Frimpong are great friends from their stint at Sisaket last season
Head coach David Booth giving Khim Borey some words of encouragement on his C-League debut
Catching practice for Yok Ary with goalkeeping coach Prak Vanny

In the Daily

One of Cambodia's popular daily English language newspapers, The Daily, took a rare foray into Cambodian football on its new sports pages, with a feature on the Metfone C-League in today's edition and included a quote from myself in the article.

Defending Football Champions Defeated in Season Opener - by Claire Luke

Phnom Penh Crown FC, defending champions of Cambodia's football league, ended its first match in this year's league championship on a low point yesterday, losing 3-0 to Preah Khan Reach, a team started by and affiliated with the military police.
"It's still early on in the championship season, but it's disappointing, because as reigning league champions, we expected to do better," said Andy Brouwer, press officer for the defeated team.
The team, owned by businessman Rithy Samnang, only lost one match last year, and has won the league title for the past two years.
The league is comprised of the country's top 10 teams, which will play two rounds of nine matches each, capped off with a showdown between the top four teams to determine the winner, Football Federation of Cambodia spokesman May Tola said.
The country's only professional football league, which is run by the FFC, began in 2004 and was renamed the Metfone Cambodian League three years ago after its main sponsor.
Mr Brouwer took issue with the FFC for its match fixtures, which lacked the random selection that should be present when countries choose league championship schedules. "The fixtures are supposed to be random, but not in Cambodia. The league tried to make it interesting by putting the two strongest teams at the beginning and end," Mr Brouwer said.
But Mr Tola said there is no such rule."FFC is a member of FIFA. We follow all of the rules for competition, but randomness is not a rule," Mr Tola said. "We try to make it so each team has equal playing time in the rotation."
FFC General-Secretary Sophana Kul said the championship schedule is made by the chief of the competition department Yean Chheang, who could not be reached for comment.
Mr Brouwer said the other top teams this year will likely be NagaCorp, which finished second last year, and Boeung Ket Rubber Field, named after a major rubber plantation.
Matches will occur every Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday at Olympic Stadium throughout the season, which ends in August.

Note: A photo accompanying the article, provided by the FFC, purported to be from the PPCFC v PKR match. In fact it was from the Army v Kirivong game. Another example of the FFC's diligence.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Booth's reaction

Crown coach David Booth oversees the pre-match warm-up
I caught up with Phnom Penh Crown head coach David Booth immediately after the final whistle for his take on his team's opening Metfone C-League game of the season, a 3-0 defeat by rivals Preah Khan Reach. "I thought we started the game very well but we lost the ball in the middle of their half and didn't offer enough of a challenge for the first goal. He's gone through two challenges on the edge of our box. And you cannot legislate for the 2nd goal. It took the game away from us and made us chase the game when we were well into it. It's something we'll have to look at."

"We didn't do too bad in the 2nd half until the last ten minutes when we were chasing the game. We played quite well and created a few chances - they had two and we had four or five - but today was not our day. Suhana's on another day would've gone in and Borey missed one by inches. Our passing let us down a bit today and we gave the ball away too frequently. But it's our first game and we'll get better than that. They out-triggered us this afternoon."

"I'll have to look at our system. I've tried to play the same system as last season but I'm not sure we have the right players to play it, so I may alter it slightly," was his reaction to any changes ahead of Crown's next game, against Western University on Sunday (25 March) at 4pm. There are also question marks over injuries to Henry Asonibe and Sok Pheng, who missed the match.

The positive side of the game was the first appearance in a league match for Khim Borey, some seventeen months after joining Crown in November 2010. His former Army teammate, Pheak Rady also made his debut for Crown after the club received clearance that both players were eligible to join the starting line-up. Eight players made their league baptism for Crown this afternoon including new foreign additions, Emmanuel Frimpong, who went off with cramp, and Henry Asonibe, who limped off with a foot injury.

Crown sunk

PPCFC starting line-up. Back LtoR: Sovan, Rady, Ary, Vanthan, Obadin, Frimpong. Front: Sovanna, Asonibe, Suhana, Borey, Sokumpheak
Phnom Penh Crown failed to fire on all cylinders in their opening game of the Metfone C-League season and against a team like Preah Khan Reach, they will punish you if you let them, and that's exactly what happened this afternoon. Both teams had spells in control but PKR took their chances and Crown didn't. Sometimes it's that simple. In Khuon Laboravy they possess someone who will do damage if you don't handle him properly and he lived up to his billing as a dangerman once again. For Crown their key players didn't shine on the day and PKR will be cock-a-hoop that their homegrown line-up delivered against Crown's array of foreign and Khmer talent. It had begun promisingly for the champions, even before the kick-off. The FFC had allowed the two former Army players (Khim Borey and Pheak Rady) to appear and Crown's three foreigners were also given the thumbs up to play. On the pitch, Borey chipped in only to see a flag for offside and then Sos Suhana escaped the clutches of Sok Rithy but rushed his shot over the cross-bar. It was an unlucky 13th minute for Crown as they lost possession in the middle and failed to cut out Hoy Phallin's pass forward to Laboravy. The tall rangy striker bore down on goal, bamboozled Sok Sovan and his finish was straight and true for the first goal. On the half hour, a Borey corner was met powerfully by the forehead of Odion Obadin but the ball fizzed into the arms of keeper Sar Sophea. Three minutes later, a Borey free-kick was curled exquisitely to the far post only for Pheak Rady's bent-down header to go the wrong side of the upright. Chances were few and far between but PKR went further ahead from an unlikely source, Crown's goalkeeper Yok Ary, seven minutes before the half-time break. Prak Mony Udom's free-kick sailed harmlessly into Ary's grasp, only for the stopper to inexplicably let the ball through his arms and between his legs as he turned in horror to see it trickle over the goal-line. He was inconsolable.

The second half began quietly with only a miscue from Moul Daravorn bringing out a save from his own keeper. Chea Samnang broke free for PKR but Ary was equal to his shot moments before Crown's best move of the match. Kouch Sokumpheak fed Suhana and his quick feet left his marker for dead, only for his angled shot to rebound to safety off the post on 65 minutes. Another good opportunity went begging soon after when sub Ouk Sothy failed to get his free header on target from Sokumpheak's pinpoint delivery. With Crown pressing hard to get back into the game, their third clear chance in as many minutes saw Borey fail to get a touch in front of goal to Suhana's low cross. With ten minutes remaining, Sokumpheak's header didn't carry enough power, sub Hong Pheng should've hit the target when put in by Suhana but missed badly and then Sokumpheak's 15-yard drive was gathered up by Sorphea. It just wasn't Crown's day in front of goal. To add insult to injury, PKR's Udom raced away down the right-flank in the first minute of injury time and Laboravy was on hand to power in a free header from six yards out. 3-0 in PKR's favour simply didn't reflect the closeness of the two teams. There was still time for Crown's Pheak Rady to send another header past the post before the final whistle.
Crown line-up: Ary, Rady, Vanthan (Dara 67), Sovan, Obadin, Sovanna, Asonibe (Sothy 56), Frimpong (H Pheng 79), Suhana, Borey, Sokumpheak. Subs not used: Oudom, Da, Tiny, Lika, Sophanal, Seyha, Kimhor, Rathanak. Bookings: Sovan.
Crown skipper Kouch Sokumpheak, with Yok Ary behind
Inside the Crown pre-match huddle
Preah Khan Reach line-up before today's match