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BBU, Naga meet for undesirable third-place playoff

Photo by: Sreng Meng Srun
BBU coach Meas Sam Oeun says tomorrow’s third-place playoff against Naga is a subplot to Saturday’s final.

Photo by: Sreng Meng Srun
Naga Corp coach Prak Sovannara will hope his side can keep their season losses to two with a win tomorrow.

Ask any beaten semifinalists and they will tell you how meaningless it can be to settle the final standings with a third-place playoff. While there may be respect in both the Build Bright United and Naga Corp camps for such a fixture tomorrow, there is unlikely to be much heart for this melodramatic end to their seasonal campaigns.

The top two regular-season finishers were left smarting from close semifinal encounters last week, with the University-backed BBU falling 2-1 to third placed Preah Khan Reach and league toppers Naga Corp crushed 4-2 by arch rivals Phnom Penh Crown.

“Our game [tomorrow] is more of a subplot to Saturday’s main show, but still it is a piece of unfinished business,” said BBU coach Meas Sam Oeun. He then made his reflections on their semifinal defeat, made worse by a rain-hit pitch, which included going behind to an own goal by keeper Sos Proshim.

“The first goal was a terrible mistake by the goalkeeper,” he said. “I understand the frustrations of conceding an own goal, but this often happens when the side is under pressure. You have to get over it and ensure that it doesn’t happen again.”

Meas Sam Oeun will be hoping to field his No 1 choice stopper Hem Simay tomorrow, who is recovering from a dislocated shoulder injury. Also, his new concept of using a sweeper behind the midfield did bring some cheer, though it remains to be seen whether the BBU coach would opt for similar tactics again.

Overall, it had been a good run for BBU, who did remarkably well to get into the Super 4 playoffs for the first time with a second place finish. A win against Naga would certainly put an impressive gloss on the side’s best showing in the league so far.

Naga, meanwhile, need to regroup after history came back to bite them with a reversal of the previous year’s semifinal result against Crown. The vastly experienced Prak Sovanara had seen it all in his remarkable career both as club coach and national team tactician, and with his trademark poise noted that “football is a great leveler” after their semifinals ouster last Sunday, only their second loss of the entire season.

To Naga’s credit, it must be said that lesser mortals would have buckled down without a fight when Crown had taken an imposing 3-0 half-time lead. But the casino-backed side brought it back within one, and if any of the umpteen chances created by Meas Channa’s adroit crosses and freekicks had merited more, the story could well have been different. As one avid spectator put it: “You can never ever count out Naga, not until the final whistle is blown.”

The outcome of potentially the most open game of the season tomorrow will largely depends on which of the two sides breathes more fire into the fixture, with personal pride and a cash prize of 4 million riels (US$941) at stake. The loser will leave with nothing to add to their regular season earnings of either 36 million riels for Naga or 34 million riels for BBU.

The teams’ most recent meeting in the league on June 16 ended in a 1-1 deadlock.

There is one individual who has added impetus for tomorrow’s match, which plays at 3:30pm at Olympic Stadium. Naga’s top hitman Teab Vatanak is on an unlikely five-goal hunt to surpass Kirivong Sok Sen Chey’s Julius Ononiwu total of 25 for the coveted Golden Boot award and 2 million riels bonus.

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