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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Battle for top four heats up as playoff looms

Battle for top four heats up as playoff looms

The Football Federation of Cambodia’s decision to introduce a four-team post-season playoff to determine last year’s league champions came under fire from many, especially when fourth-placed Naga Corp emerged victorious. However, the federation stood firm to continue their Super 4 format for this year’s campaign.

Unlike 2009, when the four front runners were established long before the end of the regular season, 2010 has been far more intriguing and unpredictable. With two rounds left and only Naga securing an unassailable lead at the head of the table, four other teams are still in with a shout of any of the three remaining spots.

Naga sit seven points adrift of nearest rivals Phnom Penh Crown and Build Bright United, but according to team manager Lam Thiny, the reigning champions are not taking their feet off the gas. “We want to remain unbeaten even though we have qualified for the playoffs,” he said. “We will give our best in the remaining fixtures to keep our record.”

Naga coach Prak Sovannara also wants to see out a term without loss, but will be looking to preserve some of his top players despite facing a grudge match this weekend against Crown.

“Actually, I want to rest players in the next two games to avoid injuries and cautions, but we also want to maintain our performance,” he said.

Crown manager Be Makara, meanwhile, remains philosophical after seeing his hopes of finishing first in the regular season for the third successive year dashed by a draw with National Defence Ministry last Sunday.

“Football is like that, we can’t win every time,” he said. “We will try more in the next two matches, and we are ready to meet any team in the playoffs ... Our target is to win the [playoffs] so we can qualify for the AFC President’s Cup, as we want to bid to host the competition in 2011.” A draw against Naga Saturday afternoon will see Crown book their place in the Super 4.

BBU coach Meas Samoeurn is modest of his club’s chances of winning the campaign, saying he is happy with their performance so far to currently lie in third. “Hopefully, we can go one step further from here in the playoffs,” he said. BBU have probably the easiest run into the Super 4, playing Khemara Keila and Chhma Khmao, who have nothing to play for, and needing a draw just from either match to guarantee a playoff berth.

Fourth -placed Preah Khan Reach were left kicking themselves for surrendering a 2-0 lead last weekend against BBU, and no one knows it better than coach Rith Dikar.

“I am not happy with allowing Build Bright to come back to level,” he said Monday. “We missed several chances to put the game beyond them, but then that’s football.

“We have two tough games ahead, but we are happy because all we need in both matches is a draw. But I want to win because we know that Kirivong Sok Sen Chey is closing on us if we make any more mistakes.”

If PKR lose to the Army on Sunday, it will set up a grand finale the following weekend to determine which team eventually clinches the coveted fourth position.

This should brighten the heart of Kirivong manager Somay Sokea, whose team squandered the chance to apply further pressure on their rivals Saturday when they were edged 1-0 by Naga. “We threw away our chance against Naga,” he said. “I think it is over for us unless the other teams slip up, but I doubt it.”

However, with results needing to go their way, Somay Sokea will be content to end the year in fifth, their best finish from four years in the top flight.
“The level of all teams has improved compared to last year,” said FFC spokesman May Tola.

No doubt the federation is welcoming the thrilling conclusion to the regular season, while mouth watering playoff clashes await in August.

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