Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Disaster waiting to happen

Cambodia's football authorities are setting the national football team up for another big fall. Their next serious international competition is the SEA Games in December, which will be held in Myanmar. That's five months away. Cambodia have yet to publicly announce the return of Lee Tae-Hoon as the national team coach, though its been reported in the local media, so presumably the first task he will undertake is to put together a squad to compete in the SEA Games. That's an under-23 competition. And that's where the decision-makers at the federation have lost valuable time compared with their southeast asian neighbours, who've stolen a march by having their teams picked and in training for the past few months. As far as I can tell, only Cambodia have yet to get off their butts and organise their SEA Games football team. Take the minnows of Brunei for example. They've had their squad picked and in training every day since April. They have a friendly coming up against Indonesia, runner's up in the last competition, very soon and Indonesia have been in training since May and playing games. Vietnam have been indulging in friendlies against opposition from Japan and France, whilst Myanmar are training with the South Korean team and will play Hong Kong next month. Malaysia are taking it so seriously that they've been over in Eastern Europe for seven months playing a series of friendly matches against club sides. Pre-Games favourties Thailand have appointed Zico as their coach and mean business, playing most of their squad in this week's friendly against visiting Liverpool, as do Singapore, who recently beat Indonesia in a friendly as part of their build-up. In fact every country has got their act together, except Cambodia. The lack of preparation is telling and even though the Mekong BIDC Cup competition will be held in Phnom Penh in November, that's too little too late, in terms of gelling together a squad capable of competing against any of their SEA neighbours. In reality, its a disaster waiting to happen as the football authorities once again fail miserably to plan ahead and make decisions that are beneficial to the nation's footballing reputation. November 2011 was the last SEA Games debacle for Cambodia, which brought four defeats in as many games under the stewardship of Lee Tae-Hoon, in his previous stint in charge, and I see a very similar story playing out this time around.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Muslim corker fails to stem reverse

PPCFC Academy v PVF. Back Row LtoR: Chanpolin, Sodavid, Baraing, Senteang, Mesa, Sovann (capt). Front Row: Noeut, Muslim, Piphop, K Chhaya, Ponvuthy - click to enlarge.
The regular season came to an end for the Phnom Penh Crown Academy boys today, though they still have the small matter of the AFF U-16 Youth Championships in Myanmar in a few weeks time. Their final game, at home against one of the favourites, the PVF Academy from Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, was always going to be a tough end to their FAM-Frenz U-15 Asean Champions Trophy exploits, with PVF needing the win to aid their qualifying efforts. Sam Schweingruber took charge of the team, with regular coach Bouy Dary feeling the effects of a bad cold and gave the youngsters two main goals for the match, have fun and stay disciplined. And the fun element certainly rang true when Yeu Muslim gave the team a 16th minute lead with a glorious goal. The look on the face of the goalscorer and his teammates was pure joy. Up til that point, PVF's Pham Tan Tai had sent two hopeful punts over the cross-bar at the other end but it was Muslim who gave the home side the head start they were looking for. Seut Baraing's long ball sailed over the top of the PVF backline and as Chhuot Senteang chased it, the opposing keeper Phan Van Bieu Tran came to the edge of his box to head it away. Muslim, 30 yards from goal, sent an instep volley back over his head for a beautifully-finished opening goal. Sem Mesa in the Crown goal caught another Tan Tai effort as PVF looked to bounce back but found Baraing and skipper Ouk Sovann in a dominant mood in the home defence. A poor challenge from PVF's Pham The Try sent Senteang off the pitch for treatment and the Vietnam defender was booked soon after for a similar clumsy challenge on Men Piphop. Pham Trong Hoa worked an opening for himself in the box but sent his dipping shot wide of the far post, whilst Tran Van Hoa volleyed a half-chance awry and Kim Chhaya made a last-ditch block to deny Trong Hoa as the half-time whistle came with Crown leading 1-nil.

Mesa was well-placed to catch Nguyen Vu Tin's header at the start of the second-half and Muslim's lack of inches meant that Piphop's quick break and cross went wide at the other end. Two minutes before the hour mark and PVF drew level. Vu Tin and Ho Minh Di played a neat one-two which got behind Suon Noeut and Minh Di crashed his effort in off the underside of the cross-bar from twelve yards out. PVF were back in the game. Soon after Le Van Diep headed well wide at the far post but it wasn't long until PVF imposed themselves and grabbed what turned out to be the match winning goal. On 68 minutes Lam Thuan's cross from the right found Vu Tin in space at the edge of the penalty area and his well-directed header went in off the foot of the upright, with Mesa's despairing dive in vain. A flurry of substitutions for both sides didn't help the flow of the game and Mesa had to be alert to grab a drive from Vu Tin. As the minutes ticked away, Baraing tried his luck from at least forty yards out and in time added on, shouts for a penalty as Vat Samnang went down under the keeper's challenge fell on deaf ears by the presence of a linesman's flag for offside. PVF, defensively strong and good on the ball, took the three points and have one game to go against Frenz Malaysia to confirm their place in the semi-finals of the competition. For Crown, they finished bottom of the six-team Group A with two points from their ten matches.

Schweingruber's reaction at the final whistle. "It was good to be a goal up but we played a little too defensively - its a product of us playing all these games against strong opposition and trying to limit the damage. I liked that we were well disciplined and more switched on than in recent games. In the 1st half PVF weren’t that dangerous, just a couple of shots from distance. In the 2nd half, they scored a pretty nice goal but we should’ve dealt with the cross better for the 2nd goal." Looking ahead to the upcoming AFF U-16 Youth Championships in Myanmar, for which Schweingruber will be in charge of the Cambodia U-16 national team and will include many of the PPCFC Academy in his squad, he commented. "We've got to work very hard over the next 3 weeks before we go to Myanmar. Our dream is to qualify out of the group of five countries. Getting positive results will obviously not be easy. But as a team we have shown that over 90 minutes we can play disciplined football. Vietnam will play a similar style to what we saw today and it looks to me that we should have a chance against Brunei, Vietnam and Myanmar. If Australia bring their strongest team, we will find ourselves up against world-class opposition."
PPCFC Academy line-up: Mesa, Noeut, K Chhaya (Phearath 72), Baraing, Sovann, Chanpolin, Sodavid, Piphop (Sakrovy 70), Ponvuthy (Dara 77), Muslim (Nuron 66), Senteang (V Samnang 83). Subs not used: S Samnang, Chansopheak, Rozak, Chanchav. Bookings: None. MOTM: Baraing.
The winning PVF line-up from Vietnam

Friday, July 26, 2013

Lee Tae-Hoon gets 2 years

Lee Tae-Hoon, back in charge for another 2 years
Okay, back to one of my favourite hobbyhorses, the national coach position of the Cambodian football team. Sabay tells us today that Lee Tae-Hoon has been appointed as the national coach for the next two years, beginning in August. The FFC have reverted back to a man who was singularly unsuccessful in his first spell in charge of the national team - just 4 wins out of 21 competitive matches during a 22-month period - and who has been twiddling his thumbs whilst his successors, Hok Sochetra and Prak Sovannara, who has been unceremoniously jettisoned for a second time, both failed to ignite the football loving country or its team. Seemingly devoid of other options - though I know for a fact that the FFC have been contacted by a stream of experienced coaches already working in Asia - the country's decision-makers have welcomed back Lee Tae-Hoon with open arms to have another crack at moving the national team's fortunes forward.

So what can we expect from the South Korean tactician? For starters, his concentration will be on players eligible for the SEA Games that begin on 1 December in Myanmar. So that means the Under-23 age group, as the SEA Games is not a senior international competition. He has the Mekong BIDC Cup, which will be held in Phnom Penh for eight teams, before that in November, so presumably he will be looking to bed-in his U-23 team in that tournament. As Cambodia have failed to qualify for the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup, he won't have to worry his head about that next year, but will have to face up to the AFF Suzuki Cup later in 2014. Luckily for him, there is no qualification for this competition, which will be held in Vietnam and Singapore around October time. Cambodia don't enter the AFC Asian Cup and the draw for the next FIFA World Cup isn't until July 2015, so he doesn't have that to concern him, especially as he's professed his complete indifference to that competition in the past. With the FFC's reluctance over the past few years to pepper the football calendar with international friendlies, aside from meaningless games with Ulsan University and the like, don't expect Lee Tae-Hoon to uproot any trees with his dogged approach. He will put his emphasis on fitness rather than any tactical expertise, if his first spell in charge is anything to go by. He claims he has some fresh ideas according to a recent interview, so we can await what those are with bated breath. For the sake of the country's international reputation - which is at an all-time low with a FIFA world ranking of 198 - his second spell in charge needs to generate a buzz about it and he can start with success in the BIDC Cup in November, on home soil. Now that would be a coup to prove his doubters wrong, of which this writer is one of many.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Singapore pick Crown's pocket

Back Row LtoR: Chanpolin, S Samnang, Baraing, Senteang, Sovann, Titchhy. Front Row: Sodavid, Rozak, Noeut, K Chhaya, Piphop - click to enlarge.
In a game the Phnom Penh Crown Academy were looking to win, the visiting NFA Singapore, the country's national academy U-15 team, bided their time before pickpocketing the three points on offer in this FAM-Frenz U-15 Asean Champions Trophy match, played at the Olympic Stadium earlier today. Both teams have found the step-up into the Asean-wide competition a tough ask this season and neither side had registered a win in eight games. For most of the opening forty-five minutes, Crown held onto the ball, controlling possession but failing to open up their opponents and create enough telling opportunities to trouble the scoreboard. Their normal flowing style, that has excited their fans in previous matches, was missing and the build-up was too predictable and laboured. In the fifth minute a foul on Orn Chanpolin, who attempted to surge through the Singapore backline on a number of occasions, saw Seut Baraing fire the free-kick into the defensive wall. Chanpolin burst through again midway through the half but his shot was blocked and moments later, sent a rasping 25-yard drive inches over the cross-bar. Seven minutes before the break, Singapore finally produced their first attempt on goal, as the ball carried safely into the arms of Svang Samnang. On the stroke of half-time, Crown lost Sraing Titchhy with a leg injury.

With Crown struggling to find their normal rhythm, and looking jaded after a series of away matches and extensive travelling, Singapore stunned their hosts with a goal from their first serious effort of the game. Ten minutes after the break, Zulquarnaen Suzliman's snap-shot was palmed aside by Samnang, only for Rusyaidi Salime to follow-up and poke the ball over the goal-line. Singapore were elated, Crown were in shock. It took another fifteen minutes for Crown to find their feet and were denied an equaliser when Chhuot Senteang connected with Sath Rozak's right-wing cross only for Singapore keeper Adib Azahari to get his body in the way. Five minutes later, and with Crown stepping up the urgency in their play, In Sodavid slotted a pass through to Rozak who toe-poked a shot goalwards, which was only partially saved by Azahari before Salime cleared the danger from the goal-line. Crown's remaining efforts were rebuffed as frustration grew and fresh faces introduced, but to no avail. Singapore held out for their first victory in the competition and Crown were left to rue the one that got away.

The Academy head coach Bouy Dary gave his views at the final whistle. "In the first half we kept hold of the ball well but didn't create enough chances. We don't normally dominate possession that much in this competition and today, we struggled to make it count. I changed a few players in the second half and we got better, played faster and created some opportunities, especially in the final twenty minutes. We have to improve our play in the final third, work harder on creating goalscoring opportunities, as well as tighten up on our defending. Physically we are okay but playing these matches, home and away, takes a toll mentally on the boys. But its great experience for them and the final game on Saturday against Vietnam, will be even harder. They are bigger and stronger and we'll have to work a lot harder and smarter than we did today."
PPCFC Academy v Singapore: S Samnang, Noeut, K Chhaya, Baraing, Sovann, Chanpolin (Sakrovy 69), Sodavid, Rozak (Chansopheak 80), Piphop (Muslim 87), Titchhy (Ponvuthy 45), Senteang. Subs not used: Mesa, Phearath, Chanchav, V Samnang, Nuron. Bookings: None. MOTM: Baraing.
NFA Singapore went home happy with a 1-0 victory, their 1st in the competition

Monday, July 22, 2013

The unthinkable becomes reality

"Did I hear what rumour? Its not a rumour my boy, it's a reality."
The Phnom Penh Post today broke the rumour that Lee Tae-Hoon will soon return as the coach of the Cambodia national team. This just about takes the biscuit. Lee Tae-Hoon's previous 22-month stint in charge was a disaster. Since he's been away - he left in the middle of 2012 - he's been coaching with some youth teams in his native South Korea and yet he tells PPP that: "I know most of the players and I have been watching them. I have some fresh ideas and let's see." Presumably those fresh ideas will include throwing his former coaching manual out into the dustbin and starting with a blank sheet of paper.

Let me repeat a post I made at the time of his departure, in June 2012.
As football is a results-driven sport, let's take a look at Lee Tae-Hoon's twenty-two months in charge of the Cambodian team, following his arrival in August 2010, through the results his teams achieved. In competitive football, his selections played 21 matches, winning four times, drawing three and losing 14 games. They scored 29 goals and conceded 54. The competitions included the AFF Suzuki Cup, AFC Challenge Cup, FIFA World Cup, Mekong BIDC Cup, SEA Games and the Hassanal Bolkiah Trophy. His teams also played what could be classed as serious friendly matches. In these, his record was played 8, won 1, drawn 1 and lost six, scoring 6 goals and conceding 16. I haven't included the results of  another 15+ matches which his teams played against Metfone C-League clubs as warm-up games. Obviously, results don't tell the whole story, and I have covered in depth in many previous posts about my thoughts on his selections, his tactics and his results. I won't go over old ground again. Suffice to say I wasn't his greatest fan and really felt that he lost the plot when he gave such scant importance to our World Cup qualifying ambitions in 2011. That was simply inexcusable. Here are the results in black and white:

Competition Results:
22 Oct 2010 v Laos (AFF Suzuki Cup) Away. Drew 0-0
24 Oct 2010 v Timor Leste (AFF Suzuki Cup) Away. Won 4-2 Borey 3, Sinoun
26 Oct 2010 v Philippines (AFF Suzuki Cup) Away. Drew 0-0
9 Feb 2011 v Macau (AFC Challenge Cup Qual) Home. Won 3-1 El Nasa 2, Laboravy
16 Feb 2011 v Macau (AFC Challenge Cup Qual) Away. Lost 2-3 Borey, El Nasa
21 Mar 2011 v Maldives (AFC Challenge Cup) Away. Lost 0-4
23 Mar 2011 v Tajikistan (AFC Challenge Cup) Away. Lost 0-3
25 Mar 2011 v Kyrgyzstan (AFC Challenge Cup) Away. Lost 3-4 Sokumpheak, Rithy
29 Jun 2011 v Laos (World Cup Qual) Home. Won 4-2 Laboravy, El Nasa 2, Sokumpheak
3 Jul 2011 v Laos (World Cup Qual) Away. Lost 2-6 aet Chhoeun, Sokumpheak
9 Oct 2011 v Laos (Mekong BIDC Cup) Home. Won 2-0 Soksana, Laboravy
12 Oct 2011 v Myanmar (Mekong BIDC Cup) Home. Drew 2-2 Udom pen, Saray
14 Oct 2011 v Thailand (Mekong BIDC Cup) Home. Lost 1-2 Sovan
7 Nov 2011 v Indonesia (SEA Games) Away. Lost 0-6
9 Nov 2011 v Singapore (SEA Games) Away. Lost 1-2 Chhoeun
11 Nov 2011 v Thailand (SEA Games) Away. Lost 0-4
13 Nov 2011 v Malaysia (SEA Games) Away. Lost 1-4 Chhoeun
25 Feb 2012 v Brunei (Hassanal Bolkiah Trophy) Away. Lost 2-3 Udom pen, Vathanaka
27 Feb 2012 v Vietnam (HBT) Away. Lost 1-2 Vathanaka
29 Feb 2012 v Timor Leste (HBT) Away. Lost 0-1
5 Mar 2012 v Malaysia (HBT) Away. Lost 1-3 Sothearath
Record: Pld 21 Won 4 Drew 3 Lost 14 Goals For 29 Agst 54

18 Sep 2010 v Vietnam U-23 Away. Lost 0-2
21 Sep 2010 v Vietnam U-23 Away. Lost 0-3
5 Dec 2010 v Ulsan University Home. Lost 1-4 own goal
7 Jun 2011 v Malaysia Olympic XI Home. Won 1-0 Laboravy
28 Oct 2011 v Nepal U-23 Home. Lost 0-1
14 Jan 2012 v Malaysia U-23 Home. Lost 0-1
27 Jan 2012 v Ulsan University Home. Drew 3-3 Vathanaka, Chhoeun, S Udom
29 Jan 2012 v Ulsan University Home. Lost 1-2 Vathanaka

Record: Pld 8 Won 1 Drew 1 Lost 6 Goals For 6 Agst 16

Obviously, I have a lot more I want to say on the subject, including commenting on a wave of support for the coach from some of the football community on Facebook. I'm sorry to say that some people view any foreign coach, even an unsuccessful one, as better than the current coach Prak Sovannara or any Khmer for that matter. The fact that he's South Korean may even sway their judgement further, especially with the current Khmer penchant for all-things Korean. I do agree that a foreign coach is best suited to shake-up the current lethargy of Cambodian football on the international scene, but not one that has a proven track record of failure. Anyway, the PPP have broken the story so we'll have to wait to hear from the Federation themselves. Fat chance of that.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Reverse on the road

PPCFC v Frenz: Back Row LtoR: Sovann, Senteang, Baraing, S Samnang, Chanpolin, K Chhaya. Front Row: Nuron, Noeut, Rozak, Sodavid, Ponvuthy.
For their final away game of the FAM-Frenz U-15 Asean Champions Trophy experience, the Phnom Penh Crown Academy boys travelled to Pahang in Malaysia to meet the joint organisers, Frenz Malaysia A. The match was played at 8.45pm Cambodian-time this evening and screened live on tv both in Malaysia and here in Cambodia. Coach Bouy Dary made a few changes to his line-up with Suon Noeut, Kim Chhaya and Sath Rozak coming in for their first starts in the competition. It was clear from the beginning that Frenz would use the high ball to put Crown under pressure and so it proved, though it was Orn Chanpolin who headed wide early on from Seut Baraing's free-kick. Pov Ponvuthy was well-placed to clear Naaim Razak's header off the goal-line from a corner and a few minutes later the same player headed against the top of the upright as Frenz piled on the pressure. Crown's Chhuot Senteang could've done better on 24 minutes when he stabbed Chanpolin's pass wide of the mark but two minutes later, the home side grabbed the lead. Abdul Ismawi's cross from the right was met by the steaming run and head of Hafi Zuki, which gave Svang Samnang no chance in the Crown goal. The keeper came out to snuff out danger at the foot of  Zuki soon after and then  Akhmar Haiqal took the ball around the prone stopper, only to foul Noeut wiuth the goal at his mercy.

Two off the ball incidents left Crown's Senteang and Rozak lying on the ground but the match officials saw nothing. Television replays showed a punch to the back of Rozak's head out of the referee's view. Frenz were determined to win at all costs. Samnang saved low from Ismawi's drive but was beaten again on 38 minutes. Haziq Hossain's through ball saw Haiqal fend off Ouk Sovann's attentions and slip the ball past Samnang for their 2nd goal. As the first-half came to a close, Mat Nuron's cross gave Ponvuthy a sight of goal but his shot was blocked by a combination of keeper Adam Zaini and a defender. With the last kick of the half, Frenz's Razak missed from a yard out as his team went in two goals up at the break. Ten minutes after the re-start and Frenz celebrated their third goal of the night. The Crown defence were caught ball-watching as Ismawi's long ball arrowed through the middle and Haiqal raced onto it and slipped it wide of Samnang. Effectively it was game over, though a minute later Nuron fed Senteang but his first-time effort went wide. Much of the second half was even-steven, with numerous substitutions and cautions by the Thai referee interrupting the flow of the game. As the match fizzled out both Baraing and Sovann sent long range free-kicks over the cross-bar while Akmal Aziz struck the post for Frenz, who moved into third place with their victory.

Crown coach Bouy Dary spoke of the plus points these matches bring for his young team. "There have been a lot of benefits playing in this competition. We haven't been involved in such an international tournament before and our boys have improved a lot from the first game, they are fitter and have a better understanding. These boys will play for the Cambodia national U-16 team, so these matches give us greater experience and we now know where we are in comparison to other countries. This is important to us." PPCFC Academy line-up v Frenz: S Samnang, Noeut, K Chhaya, Baraing, Sovann, Chanpolin (Muslim), Sodavid, Rozak (Piphop), Ponvuthy (Sakrovy), Nuron (Titchhy), Senteang (V Samnang). Subs not used: Mesa, Chansopheak, Phearath, Chanchav. Bookings: Noeut, Chanpolin, Titchhy. MOTM: S Samnang. In other ACT matches tonight, Thailand's Chonburi went top with a 4-1 win over Singapore and Vietnam's PVF went 2nd beating Timor-Leste 7-1. Crown have 2 more matches to play in the competition, both at home. They entertain NFA Singapore on Tuesday (23 July) at 4pm and Vietnam PVF on Saturday (27 July), also at 4pm, with both games at the Olympic Stadium.

All done and dusted

The PPCFC team collect their medals and 3rd place cheque
The Phnom Penh Crown players collected their third place medals and a cheque for 36,000,000 million riels (that's $9,000) at the closing ceremony for the Metfone C-League this afternoon. That wasn't the main event but perhaps the highlight for some. The rain was coming down in buckets at that time. Earlier in the afternoon, it was not much more than a drizzle as Svay Rieng (who changed their name from Preah Khan Reach in mid-season) took on Boeung Ket in the Championship Play-off Final. The two teams finished in the top two places in the league, so if we must have this farce of a play-off then they were the two teams who merited it. On the day, ex-PKR registered their first MCL title with a single goal success, courtesy of a Khuon Laboravy strike from 25 yards just five minutes before half-time. Not only has the striker battled back from a serious knee injury, but he also collected the Golden Boot with 20 goals and to cap it all, the FFC gave him the Best Player of the Season award. Bags of credit to the popular striker, though the stand-out best player of the season award should've gone to Chukwuma Ohuruogu, the Boeung Ket defender. The final itself was even-steven for most of the first period, aside from that Laboravy strike, with the Rubbermen putting on more pressure after the break but unable to get past the game's outstanding player, Sok Rithy. He was a mountain in the ex-PKR backline. Billed as a clash of the goalscoring giants, Laboravy won that battle hands down as Boeung Ket's Bisan George was quiet as a mouse. The crowd was clocked at 6,000, though I never believe any attendance figures, with Boeung Ket giving away free t-shirts at the gate to anyone who would pledge their 90-minutes allegiance to the Rubbermen. The other awards went to ex-PKR's Sam Vandeth as coach of the year, Boeung Ket scooped up the Fair Play award, with the cash prizes of $14,500 for 1st place and $12,000 for the runners-up. Two more awards that I must take issue with are the top goalkeeper award that was given to ex-PKR's second-choice stopper Am Sovannarath, who played just half a season of games, and the annual award of the best referee to Thong Chankethya. Surely the goalkeeper with the best shut-out record having conceded the least number of goals must be in with a shout (Samrith Seiha), while Chankethya getting the referee award, again, smacks of FFC cronyism at its best. No change there then. So that's it for another season. All done and dusted. Aside from the small matter of relegation and promotion with Senate and AEU destined for the drop, but it remains as clear as mud who will take their place.
Ex-PKR, now called Svay Rieng, claim the MCL trophy for the 1st time

Friday, July 19, 2013

Making a habit of 3rd

PPCFC. Back Row LtoR; Boris, Srin, Makara, Sokumpheak, Borey. Front Row: Obadin, Thierry, Pheng, Ha-Neul, Seiha, van der Hooft - click to enlarge
Phnom Penh Crown are making a habit of finishing in third place. They've now completed the double after landing third spot in the Hun Sen Cup earlier in the season, and with today's 1-0 win over Build Bright United (BBU), they also claimed the third place in the Metfone C-League play-offs. The winning goal, obviously, came from the boot of Crown's ace marksman Elroy van der Hooft, in what is likely his last outing for the club. Due to take a holiday on the south coast, the Dutch striker who has shown his class, willingness to run for lost causes, all-round team effort and his knack of scoring crucial goals since joining Crown at the mid-point of the season, netting twelve times in all, is due to return to his country of birth before deciding his future. He has certainly created a stir here in Cambodia with his goals-per-game ratio, some fabulous individual efforts and a willingness to interact with the fans on the terraces. It's clear he would be welcome back anytime though he has his sights set on playing at the highest level possible, so we'll have to see what transpires. As for the game itself, Crown had to pick themselves up after the disappointment of losing the semi-final last weekend and coach Sam Schweingruber's only change was Leng Makara for Sos Suhana. The match kicked-off as the rain arrived and referee Tuy Vichheka made his point early on, booking Elroy van der Hooft after just seven minutes for kicking the ball, moments after he blew for offside. It was a very harsh decision and looked even harsher when the same official ignored an identical situation minutes later when BBU did exactly the same. BBU's only effort on target in the whole of the first-half came when Seng Komsen launched a hopeful ball forwards that took a wicked bounce as Crown keeper Samrith Seiha came to collect. It was much as he could manage to push the ball into the air and as Pech Sina challenged, Seiha made a point-blank save to keep him out. Two other long-range efforts that fizzed well wide was all BBU could muster. At the other end, on 25 minutes, Leng Makara fed van der Hooft in the box and the striker found a yard of space but his powerful drive struck the cross-bar and bounced to safety. Three minutes later, Kouch Sokumpheak's delightful pass saw the Dutchman racing into space but his first-time left-footer flashed across the face of the goal and wide. As the first-half came to a close, a Makara shot was blocked and Ngoy Srin's menacing cross eluded everyone, before Lee Ha-Neul's one-two with Khim Borey saw the South Korean screw his shot wide of the target after creating a good opening.

Another early booking, in the second-half, for Crown's Hong Pheng was keeping referee Tuy Vichheka's pencil sharpened. This time it was for simulation after Pheng went over in the penalty box. Tow BBU players were quick to follow him into the referee's book. Twenty minutes into the second period and Makara will wonder how he missed the target. Bin Thierry's inswinging corner kick was missed by keeper Sos Proshim and Makara, standing five yards from goal, cushioned his free header wide of the mark. Five minutes later the same player burst into the penalty area only to fire his shot straight at a grateful Proshim. It was all Crown at this point, as van der Hooft had a shot blocked and Suhana, on as a sub, saw his goal-bound effort deflected for a corner. Searching for a winner, Suhana volleyed straight at Proshim and Makara's fierce drive was blocked by a defender and keeper combination. Shouts for a penalty when the ball struck Adewale Olugbami's arm went unheeded and the same player was cautioned for hauling down van der Hooft as he broke away. The final action of normal time saw Thierry's 25-yard free-kick well taken at the foot of the post by Proshim. Extra-time was next.

Under the floodlights, Thierry was first to test Proshim with a free-kick that the keeper punched clear. Referee Vichheka then decided to take matters into his own hands with two yellow cards for Kouch Sokumpheak within six minutes of each other, both for lunging tackles, leaving Crown a man short. Within two minutes that numerical disadvantage was swept away as Makara broke into the box, and as van der Hooft challenged for the cross, he was upended by Proshim and a penalty was awarded. The Dutch marksman got to his feet to crash the ball home for his 13th goal of the season. It was timed at 104 minutes on the clock and greeted with loud cheers from the majority of the crowd. A neat one-two between Suhana and van der Hooft opened up the BBU backline five minutes into the second period of extra time but on this occasion the striker sent his hurried shot over the top. A small sign of resistance from BBU skipper Prum Putsethy, as he flashed a shot wide, but it was all too brief as Crown maintained control and saw the match out to claim third place in the MCL play-offs.

PPCFC coach Sam Schweingruber had this to say at the end of the game. "We've seen in the 2nd Round that BBU are a very difficult team to break down, they only lost by a single goal in the semi-final, so we knew they had a well-organised defence. I thought we could've played better but for me our discipline was much improved from our last game, and that helped us to have a clean sheet again, and if you work hard, you get that piece of luck you need. It was a penalty but it was also a bit of a struggle to get to that point. We were dominant, we were better, we just didn't create enough clear chances." He also took a moment to look back at the whole season, his first in charge of the club. "I would've been quite happy with two 3rd places if you'd asked me before the season. At that time we didn't know what kind of team we'd have and we initially struggled with young and inexperienced Cambodian players. The decision to sign foreign players after a few games obviously gave us more depth and helped us to, with lots of hard work, create a solid team that we've seen in the last few months, take positive results against every single team. We've shown we have the qualities to compete and to be champions. I'm obviously disappointed about that, both times we were very close, in the cup and the league. All in all this season, I've learned a lot of lessons and a lot of things that can be improved upon in the future." 
PPCFC line-up: Seiha, Srin, Pheng (Seyha 70), Boris, Obadin, Thierry, Sokumpheak, Makara (Sothy 106), Borey, Ha-Neul (Suhana 70), van der Hooft. Subs not used: Ary, Soksela, Da, Dara, Lika, Morslim, Phearun, Pisa. Bookings: van der Hooft, Pheng, Makara, Seiha, Sokumpheak (+ red card). MOTM: van der Hooft.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Twice in a week

Academy 2. Back Row LtoR: Titchhy, Sodavid, Soksela, Sovann, Chanpolin. Front Row: Senteang, T Chhaya, Muslim, Chansopheak, Nuron, Phearath. 
The Svay Rieng club seem to have the Indian Sign over Phnom Penh Crown this week, after their U-16 team beat the Crown Academy 2 team 1-0 in the final of the Cambodia Football Development League U-16 Championship earlier this morning at the RSN Stadium. On Saturday their senior team upset the Crown senior team in the Metfone C-League play-off semi-final and today, the Svay Rieng U-16s turned the form book on its head to win. The match, two halves of thirty minutes each, as expected, was a cagey affair with neither team producing much goalmouth action though the visitors picked up two bookings for rough challenges early on. Crown's Yeu Muslim dragged the best chance of the first-half wide of the mark just before the break with a left-foot shot from Long Phearath's ball forward. The stalemate continued well into the second half until ten minutes before the end, a long ball caught out the home defence and Kunthea Ravann slotted in what turned out to be the winning goal. Despite six minutes of added on time after the Svay Rieng team repeatedly faked injury, the win gave the former Preah Khan Reach club a hat-trick of CFDL titles at U-12, U-14 and U-16 levels in the competition's debut season. 
In the first half of the season, the Academy 2 team reigned supreme with six wins out of six, including a 4-1 thrashing of Svay Rieng in March. After the Academy were accepted into the Asean U-15 Champions Trophy, the league campaign was shelved and play-offs were introduced with the Academy 2 getting to the final at the expense of their Academy 1 teammates. But today, they couldn't repeat the thumping of earlier in the season. Academy coach Bouy Dary had this to say at the final whistle. "I’m disappointed of course, they weren’t better than us but we didn’t concentrate 100% for the whole game and were not good enough to win today. We allowed them to cross the ball too much and didn’t press them quick enough when they had the ball, which is how they scored. We weren’t as fresh as we could’ve been as we have played a lot this month but I was happy that we fought until the end. For me, the difference between us is that we focus more on development than winning the title, if we wanted to win this cup we would’ve put only one team in the competition. Winning in the future is important but not at this stage of their development. Now we will concentrate on our game this Saturday (in Malaysia) and learn from the mistakes we made today." 
Svay Rieng celebrate their success this morning with the CFDL Trophy

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Academy heads held high

PPCFC Academy v Singapore. Back row LtoR: Chanpolin, Senteang, Baraing, K Chhaya, S Samnang, Sovann (capt). Front Row: Ponvuthy, Nuron, Chansopheak, Piphop, Sodavid.
The Phnom Penh Crown Academy have a busy week, having just returned from a successful trip to Singapore, they play a domestic Cup Final on Wednesday morning before heading overseas again, this time to Malaysia, where they play again on Saturday 20 July. The Academy squad returned home today following their excellent 0-0 draw against NFA Singapore at the Yishun Stadium in Singapore on Saturday evening. According to coach Bouy Dary with a little more luck they could’ve returned with all three points from their FAM-Frenz U-15 Asean Champions Trophy encounter. They defended well with Svang Samnang in goal looking assured and if Chhuot Senteang had converted a one-on-one with the keeper the result might've been different. The result gave the PPCFC youngsters their second Group A point and will give them confidence ahead of their final away game in the competition, at the home of the joint organizers, Frenz Malaysia A, on Saturday (20 July). After that they have two home matches against Singapore (23 July) and Vietnam’s PVF (27 July) to complete their first season in this Asean-wide competition. The PPCFC Academy line-up v NFA Singapore: S Samnang, Chansopheak (Noeut), K Chhaya, Baraing, Sovann, Chanpolin (Rozak), Sodavid, Piphop (Sakrovy), Nuron, Ponvuthy (Muslim), Senteang. Subs not used: Mesa, T Chhaya, V Samnang, Dara.
On Wednesday 17 July, the PPCFC Academy 2 team will meet Svay Rieng in the Cambodia Football Development League U-16 Championship Final at RSN Stadium, with a 9am kick-off. The former Preah Khan Reach teams have already collected the U-12 and U-14 CFDL titles and the U-16s will be keen to make it a hat-trick. The PPCFC Academy 2 team, who put out their Academy 1 teammates in the semi-final, courtesy of a last-minute Chhuot Senteang goal, will be determined to stop them. It should be a cracking match with games against their rivals from Svay Rieng always providing good football and excitement.

Pulling faces

I wasn't my usual jolly self as the last few minutes ticked by and PPCFC went out. Photo by Ja Dina, click to enlarge
 Caught on camera at the Phnom Penh Crown match yesterday.
Rumnea can still find the energy to pull a funny face. Photo by Ja Dina, click to enlarge

Masayori Ishikawa spots a half-time conflab between Sam, John and myself. Click to enlarge

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Crown falter in semi-final

PPCFC v Svay Rieng. Back Row LtoR: Obadin, Boris, Ha-Neul, Thierry, van der Hooft, Srin. Front Row: Pheng, Suhana, Seiha, Sokumpheak, Borey (capt).
With a place in the Metfone C-League play-off final at stake, this semi-final, played at the Old Stadium on a less-than-satisfactory surface, pitched 2nd-placed Svay Rieng against Phnom Penh Crown, the third-place finishers in the 18-game domestic league season. Attracting a crowd of over 1,500, the match referee was the inexperienced Chi Samedy and he was the focus of a deluge of criticism at the final whistle. With Crown kicking off, they were almost caught napping after just 47 seconds as Sok Chanrasmey raced clear but fired weakly at Samrith Seiha with the goal at his mercy. Crown's first effort of note came on 8 minutes as Elroy van der Hooft headed a Bin Thierry corner wide of the target. At the other end, Svay Rieng's only corner of the match found Khuon Laboravy's head at the near post but Seiha was down smartly to thwart the danger. Moments later, Seiha needed treatment for a kick in the head after Laboravy left his foot dangling in a challenge. A Kouch Sokumpheak effort gave Am Sovannarath little trouble in the SR goal and Lee Ha-Neul's surge to the byeline and cross eluded everyone. On 24 minutes a weakly-struck clearance from Seiha landed at the feet of Tum Saray 25-yards from goal, and as Kok Boris backed off, Saray's shot from the edge of the box gave the former Preah Khan Reach team a soft one-goal advantage.

Crown threatened when Thierry's inswinging free-kick was fisted clear by Sovannarath but it was Svay Rieng who were celebrating a second goal on 36 minutes. Laboravy controlled a long pass, cut inside his marker and laid the ball off to Saray, who placed his low shot wide of Seiha's despairing dive and inside the post. A faltering start by Crown had been severely punished. However, less than a minute later, Crown were back in it, courtesy of Kouch Sokumpheak. Khim Borey was the provider and with a neat shimmy, Sokumpheak moved inside the penalty box and let rip with a vicious drive that gave Sovannarath no chance. Just four minutes later and it was level-pegging. Odion Obadin's cross-field pass was dummied by van der Hooft and Borey took the ball in his stride, cut in-field and unleashed a 25-yard screamer that dipped over Sovannarath's head and sent the Crown fans into raptures. It was a cracking goal and 2-2 was the half-time score.

Twice at the start of the second half, Sovannarath was forced to leave his goal-line and race out quickly to deny Borey and Hong Pheng. With Ha-Neul booked for kicking the ball against the hoarding and van der Hooft muscled to the ground, Crown were guilty of waiting for the whistle and Svay Rieng took advantage with a quick break ten minutes into the half. Laboravy crossed from the right and Saray got his head to the ball and though it lacked power, Seiha couldn't stop it crossing the line. It was Saray's hat-trick goal. Svay Rieng's James Adekunle was cautioned for challenging Ha-Neul with a leading arm that caused a mini confrontation between both teams. Seiha was in the way as Chanrasmey shot from Saray's pass and at the other end, Sos Suhana failed to attack a Ngoy Srin pass to the far post. A golden opportunity fell to substitute Leng Makara on 77 minutes, on for Ha-Neul, after Sokumpheak's cross fell to him fifteen yards out. Instead of guiding his shot inside the post, he stabbed it wide and the chance was wasted. Moments later, a lucky bounce sent Sokumpheak scrurrying clear but Sovannarath was quick to smother the breakaway. With twn minutes to go, one of Sokumpheak's succession of corners was met powerfully by the run and leap of Obadin but his goal-bound header was fisted over from under the bar by Sovannarath.

Seiha was alert to repel a drive to the near post by Lay Raksmey and Adekunle just managed to clear the danger in his own six-yard box as van der Hooft lunged for a Thierry pass. In the third minute of time added on, Svay Rieng sealed their win with a fourth goal. Catching Crown on the break, Prak Mony Udom crossed to the near post and Laboravy got a touch that out-foxed Seiha and the ball rolled agonisingly over the line. Two minutes later and Crown grabbed a goal but it was too little too late. Thierry's 20-yard free-kick was pushed onto the cross-bar by Sovannarath and as the ball bounced down onto the goal-line, van der Hooft dived to head in. Referee Samedy blew his whistle a minute later as Svay Rieng celebrated their success and the crowd took out their anger on the match officials. Crown coach Sam Schweingruber was understandably frustrated immediately after the game. "We should've been down after a minute. Some players were asleep, not concentrating, certainly not how we expected to start the game. 3 of their 4 goals would not normally go in. We've conceded just 5 goals in our last 9 matches and then we concede 4 goals like this in 1 game. We didn't deserve to win. We started off the 2nd half okay and with a bit of luck could've taken the lead, but we got frustrated with the referee and had all kinds of issues. On the counter attack we got punished, which is something we do to teams, but they did it to us. We were complaining too much, we lost the ball too much and we lost our discipline. We weren't the better team today and our lack of discipline at important moments cost us dearly." Crown must pick themselves up as they meet BBU in the third-place decider on Friday after the students were beaten 1-0 in extra time by Boeung Ket at the Olympic Stadium in the other semi-final.
PPCFC line-up: Seiha, Srin, Pheng, Boris, Obadin, Thierry, Sokumpheak, Suhana, Borey, Ha-Neul (Makara 71), van der Hooft. Subs not used: Ary, Soksela, Da, Narin, Lika, Dara, Seyha, Sothy, Morslim, Pisa. Bookings: Ha-Neul. MOTM: Sokumpheak.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Super 4 almost upon us

The Super 4 play-off semi-finals are almost upon us. These are the football federation's way of deciding the Metfone C-League champions, choosing a bleedin' play-off rather than the title being won by the team who consistently out-performs everyone else in the 18-game league campaign. Boeung Ket won the sprint for the league but won nothing, and are now joined by the next three teams, in the 4-team semis. Boeung Ket play the 4th-placed team, Build Bright, who netted an injury winner to outsmart NagaCorp and rob them of the fourth spot, while runners-up Svay Rieng (who used to be known as Preah Khan Reach but changed their name mid-season just to confuse everyone) will meet Phnom Penh Crown. Both semis take place this Saturday. However, in their infinite wisdom, actually that should be infinitesimal wisdom, the Federation have scheduled the two games to kick-off at the same time, 3pm, at different grounds. Boeung Ket get the Olympic Stadium. Svay Rieng, the Old Stadium. So instead of guaranteeing a bumper crowd at the Olympic Stadium, the FFC have split the matches. Brilliant. Nice job FFC. Again.

Phnom Penh Crown coach Sam Schweingruber, already pleased that his team made the play-offs as well as setting a new league record for the least number of goals conceded in 18 games, with a new total of just 13 goals, is in his first season in charge. He's already posted third place in the Hun Sen Cup and now wants to do better in the Super 4 deciders. He had this to say about his opponents, earlier today. “They are THE team that tries to play good passing football. Our mission is to stop them from playing. They are young and have good energy levels as well as a good understanding of each other, despite their young age. For our part, we have been training well including today at the Old Stadium, we’ve had special meals and meetings and are channelling all our attention to this important game. We have worked very hard in training and shown great discipline in our games in the second half of the season, aided by important goals from Elroy. We must have two more disciplined performances and a lot of hard work to become champions. We are certainly good enough to beat any team remaining in the final games, but its not an easy task. It will require strong team spirit and that bit of luck to go our way.” He has a full squad to choose from and the FFC have decided to be generous with their yellow card count, by knocking a card off the total of each of the players taking part in the semis, so that they have a better chance of making the final. Many of the Crown team for example, at least 8 players, would've missed the final if booked in the semi, and their team progressed. By the way, in line to get the Fair Play Award for least cautions/dismissals are Svay Rieng. 

It will be interesting to see which referee is appointed to the Crown semi-final. My money is on Khuon Virak. Why? Well for reasons known only to themselves, the FFC has sent Virak out to officiate in six Crown matches this season (out of 18), including four of their last six games. It makes no sense at all that the same referee is appointed for so many games, absolutely no sense. It got to the stage where Virak was the man in the middle for three consecutive matches, and for the three matches before that, Saing Sopheak was in charge, each time. This is an area that needs serious investigation by the FFC. 

Last but not least, a little bird whispered in my ear that the South Korean coach Lee Tae-Hoon, has been earmarked to take over the Cambodian national U-23 team that will take part in the SEA Games in Myanmar in December. I must admit I did chuckle at the suggestion, but the little bird was deadly serious. Re-appointing such an unsuccessful coach - his record in competitive matches was - Played 21 Won 4 Drew 3 Lost 14 Goals For 29 Against 54 - before his demise in the middle of last year, will be a backward step of monumental proportions. But why am I not surprised by the possibility. Watch this space.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Academy win, and lose

The winning Academy 2 team: Back Row LtoR: Sovann, Titchhy, Sodavid, Senteang, Chanpolin, Dara. Front Row: Phearath, Nuron, Chansopheak, Muslim, T Chhaya. Click to enlarge.
The Cambodia Football Development League took a back-seat once the Phnom Penh Crown Academy started playing in the Asean U-15 Champions Trophy. The second half of the season was curtailed into a series of play-off matches and in the U-16 Championship, where the Academy 2 team led the way, followed by the Academy 1 team and Svay Rieng, there was one outstanding match. The semi-final of the U-16s to decide who would meet Svay Rieng in the final. As you might expect, the match-up was between the two Academy teams. In a closely-fought match on Tuesday, and with penalties looking like the eventual outcome, Chhuot Senteang popped up in the box to convert the winning goal in the final minute for the Academy 2 team. The same player had already missed three guilt-edged chances before that, so for his sake he was relieved to put it away, while Mat Sakrovy and Pov Ponvuthy went close for the Academy 1 side. Though it was a match between Academy teammates no quarter was given and at least three players limped off at the final whistle. It was a good warm-up for the Academy squad that will travel to play in Singapore this coming Saturday in the Asean U-15 competition. The date for the U-16s final is yet to be decided. Svay Rieng will be looking for a clean sweep after they carried off both the U-12 and U-14 competition finals a week or so earlier.
Academy 1. Back Row LtoR: Noeut, K Chhaya, Baraing, Chanchav, V Samnang, S Samnang. Front Row: Sakrovy, Ponvuthy, Piphop, David, Rozak. Click to enlarge.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Game-changing decision

PPCFC Academy. Back Row LtoR: Chanpolin, Titchhy, Baraing, Senteang, S Samnang, Sovann (capt). Front Row: Chansopheak, Nuron, Piphop, Sodavid, Ponvuthy.
With a 4-1 defeat in Timor still fresh in the memory, albeit in a match which the Phnom Penh Crown Academy gave as good as they got for an hour, there was optimism in the camp that an upset might be on the cards with the Timor-Leste U-15 national team making the trip to Phnom Penh. With the Olympic Stadium unavailable, the Asean U-15 Champions Trophy match was played at the Old Stadium and in front of an expectant crowd, the first-half went according to plan for the home team. The difference in size was obvious but there was little to choose between the teams on a tactical level as both sides came close on a few occasions. Seut Baraing got in a decisive block early on and Svang Samnang showed good hands to deal with a drive from Gaudencio Monteiro. In Sodavid tried his luck from 25 yards with Crown's first attempt, but it bounced into the keeper's hands. On the half-hour, Men Piphop sent Chhuot Senteang skating clear and in a high-foot challenge with the keeper, Nuno Belo, the ball rolled harmlessly wide. Two minutes later another one-two with Pov Ponvuthy sent Senteang racing clear again, only for his attempted lob from 35 yards out to stick in the gloves of Belo. A dangerous free-kick from Sebastiao Dos Santos gave Samnang a few jitters as he pushed it away amongst a bevy of players. At the other end, Senteang slipped his marker but his cross was inches from the boot of Piphop and the danger averted. On 37 minutes, Samnang's weak punch saw Feliciano Goncalves shot blocked by a posse of defenders before Ricardo Mendonca blasted a 20-yard effort that Samnang finger-tipped onto the cross-bar. As play switched from end to end, Sodavid's through ball found Ponvuthy on the edge of the box, but his blast went too high. It was all-square at the break.

With just 40 seconds on the clock after the re-start, referee Suresh from Malaysia left his lasting mark on the match. The official judged a tackle by Crown's central defender Sraing Titchhy, on the edge of his own box, as a bookable offence and showed the youngster a second yellow, followed by a red card. Titchhy had been deservedly booked in the first-half for a pull-back. Titchhy and the Crown bench were mortified, with Titchhy claiming he'd played the ball. The referee disagreed and the home team were down to ten men. From the resulting free-kick, Mendonca unleashed a ferocious drive that gave Samnang no chance and Timor were ahead. It was a double devastating blow. With Senteang pulled back as a makeshift defender, Crown tried to weather the storm but Timor smelled blood and piled on the pressure. Ten minutes into the half and they went two goals to the good. A poor clearance landed at the feet of Pelagio Da Costa and his 20-yard screamer hit the back of the net before Samnang could move. Two goals in ten disastrous minutes for the home side.

Just past the hour mark and referee Suresh decided to even up the numbers. Timor keeper Belo came charging out of his area to challenge a high ball from Sodavid that had sent Senteang scurrying forward, and the keeper's momentum and hand, apparently, touched the ball. Referee Suresh was adamant and a straight red card was flashed at Belo. The defensive wall stood firm to thwart Baraing's powerfully struck free-kick. Crown coach Bouy Dary made three substitutions to add more urgency and two of the new faces, Mat Sakrovy and Suon Noeut combined to send the latter into the box, with stand-in keeper Ricardo Da Cruz getting down low at the post to deny the effort on 73 minutes. Kim Chhaya whipped over a left-foot cross to the far post which Senteang failed to connect to and with their next attack, Timor hammered in the final nail of Crown's coffin. With ten minutes of the match remaining, Ouk Sovann and Baraing failed to cut out a long ball and Mendonca was left to run on and lob the ball over the stranded Samnang for Timor's third goal. With Crown winded, Samnang was forced to make telling saves from Dos Santos and Ervino Soares late on as Timor-Leste celebrated their success. Crown coach Dary identified the reasons for the defeat. "We played okay in the 1st half. But a red card at the start of the 2nd and the game changed. We made too many mistakes and our communication was not good either. We tried to play too much when a simple pass was the right thing to do. We tried to change the game with some subs when they lost their keeper but it didn't work. We must improve our game and cut out these individual mistakes for the next matches."
PPCFC Academy line-up: Samnang, Chansopheak, Baraing, Sovann, Titchhy, Sodavid, Piphop (Sakrovy 71), Chanpolin (Rozak 80), Ponvuthy (Noeut 69), Nuron (K Chhaya 54), Senteang. Subs not used: Chanvuthy, Muslim, Chanchav, V Samnang, T Chhaya. Bookings: Titchhy (+ red card). MOTM: Samnang.

Crown finish in 3rd spot

PPCFC. Back Row LtoR: Da, Seyha, Pisa, Ary, Narin, Lika. Front Row: Morslim, Dara, Phearun, Sothy (capt), Suhana - click to enlarge
Phnom Penh Crown's final regular match of the Metfone C-League season, to determine final league positions but not the championship, which will go to play-offs over the next two weeks, was against Kirivong, who had everything to play for. Crown's place in the play-offs was already assured. Crown coach Sam Schweingruber, with a list as long as your arm of players sitting on 1 yellow card away from suspension, took the obvious option and sidelined them all. That meant game-time for the remainder of his squad players, who must've thought they'd have a tough game on their hands, with Kirivong still able to make the top 4 if results went their way. Especially as Kirivong had recently beaten league leaders Boeung Ket 7-5. How wrong they were. It beggars belief how Boeung Ket could've conceded that many goals against a Kirivong team led by Friday Nwakuna but which turned out to be toothless and offered practically zero threat after the break. For Crown players like Mak Phearun, Ly Morslim and Chhom Pisa, who were starting a league game for the first time, their baptism in a game devoid of real star quality, was much less frenetic as they may've expected. With Friday just one goal behind the league's top scorer, you would've expected him to pose a threat and he twice came close in the first 15 minutes. At first he connected with a cross at the far post, but his touch deserted him and moments later, he fired in a low drive that Yok Ary saved with his feet. The Crown goalkeeper was in good form in the opening exchanges and soon pushed a far post header by Ek Vannak for a corner. A double save from Vannak and Heng Seyha followed as Kirivong sought an opening goal, whilst at the other end, Morslim put in Phearun but he rushed his shot and it hit the side netting. Sos Suhana sent a long range drive over the bar as Crown found their feet. How a swinging arm from Nhim Sovannara on Phearun didn't warrant at least a yellow card no-one could fathom and from the free-kick, Pisa fired in a 25-yard effort that struck the outside of the near post.

For all of the second half, bar a final last few minutes flurry, Kirivong were absent as an attacking force. That left Crown, with a makeshift strikeforce of Phearun and Morslim, to take control and with better finishing they could've and should've registered a goal. First Pisa and then Phearun chased balls into the box but couldn't get a shot away, then Suhana latched onto Leng Makara's header but fired straight into the hands of keeper Kim Makara. The same pair carved open the Kirivong defence soon after but the result was the same, with Makara stopping Suhana's effort. The match fizzled out into a midfield muddle until the closing minutes when Phan Bunlong shot wide, Friday did likewise and a free-kick from Heng Koemhoung was fisted clear by Ary in the final action of the match. A second string Crown line-up had held Kirivong with relative ease and at the same time, registered a new record with only 13 goals conceded in 18 league matches, beating the previous record held by Phnom Penh Empire of 15 goals in 2008. That was a real plus for coach Schweingruber. "While Kirivong had 2 or 3 good chances in the first-half, very hard defensive work by Crown restricted them to a few shots from distance after that. Our inexperienced attackers failed to get their shot away early enough when we went forward. We had better chances in the second half and on three occasions should have scored with one-on-one attempts with their keeper. Though we didn't score, we did succeed in our main objective of keeping a clean sheet for a 7th time and set the new record of conceding only 13 goals in the entire season - a big achievement and the result of many hours of hard work on the training pitch focusing on solid defense. Having released a lot of defenders and then losing Rady and Dani during the season, its an achievement to be proud of."
With superior goal difference to their nearest rivals Svay Rieng, it looked as though Crown would finish the season in second spot in the table with both teams finishing on 33 points, but in the game at the Old Stadium, AEU offered up no resistance as they were bullied into a 10-3 defeat, giving Svay Rieng second place by virtue of the same goal difference as Crown, but by scoring more goals. Crown wrapped up the regular season in 3rd spot.
PPCFC line-up: Ary, Da, Seyha, Narin, Lika, Sothy (capt), Pisa, Suhana, Phearun (Kano 72), Dara (Makara 57), Morslim (Ratana 81). Subs not used: Seiha, Srin, Pheng, Thierry, Sokumpheak. Bookings: Phearun. MOTM: Ary.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Divided loyalties

The PPCFC Academy in Timor with their police escort riders
Torn in two is how Phnom Penh Crown fans will feel this coming Saturday. Their C-League heroes, galloping towards the championship play-offs, have their final league match of the regular domestic season. But at the same time, the Crown Academy, loved universally for their enterprising style of play and carrying the hopes of Khmer football in the future, will also be in action, across town at a different venue. Unable to swap with other C-League matches, the senior team will face Kirivong at 4pm at Olympic Stadium, aiming to continue their end of season flourish, as well as seeking to break the C-League record for conceding the least number of goals in a season. They currently stand at a miserly13 goals, the record, held by Phnom Penh Empire in 2008, is fifteen. At the Old/Army Stadium, the Academy will entertain the Timor-Leste U-15s in another exciting Asean U-15 Champions Trophy tie, which will start at 3.45pm. It was only last week that Crown lost in Timor 4-1, so revenge is on everyone's mind this weekend. With less riding on the game at Olympic, as the seniors have already qualified for the play-off semi-finals, many PPCFC fans have already decided to pledge their support for the Academy youngsters, whilst others are torn between the two. It's an agonizing decision for many to make.