AN INTENSE drama built up over nearly six months of clashes involving 10 teams reaches its climactic end when the Metfone C-League playoff semi-finals are played out simultaneously from a 3pm kick-off tomorrow at two different venues.
The thought of Build Bright United lining up against defending champions Boeung Ket Rubber Field at Olympic Stadium boggles the mind after all the miseries the university-backed side had endured both on and off the pitch hardly months ago.
Having won that obstacles course race at remarkable odds to find a place in the Super 4 at the expense of favoured NagaCorp, it is hard to see BBU going down without a fight.
It’s safe to assume that even if the side may not measure up to the all round strengths of Boeung Ket on paper, the long shots will make life harder for the title holders.
For BBU, confidence stems from two different sources. First it is the sheer joy of turning around the improbability of making the cut after losing the side’s long serving coach Meas Sam Oeurn and surviving a walkout by six of its players midway through the season – the kind of unsavoury events that could have flattened any side.
The second and more significant feelgood factor is that BBU had beaten Boeung Ket the last time they met, even if it was a tragic own goal that had done for the champions, who at the time were going through their own bad patch.
Counting that defeat as one of those lean days for Boeung Ket on the pitch, the league toppers can look back to their 5-0 drubbing of BBU earlier in the season as their reference point and feel lot more cheerful that the equation is far more friendly in this vital match-up.
The attacking adventure of Bisan George to go with the midfield fluidity of Degule Momoh and backline solidity of Chukwuma Ohuruogo have been redeeming features of almost every notable performance by Boeung Ket this season. This Nigerian trio has kept the side rolling, with young and talented local Chan Vathanaka revelling in their company.
Unless BBU can find something out of the ordinary, or be fortunate enough to stumble upon a Boeung Ket slip up or two, it is hard to see the side blocking the Kampong Cham club’s way to the final.
Some of the league encounters had been highly competitive this season, none more than the ones between former champions Phnom Penh Crown and title aspirants for years Svay Rieng, formally Preah Khan Reach.
The clash between the two at the Old Stadium for a place in the final bears all the hallmarks of a typical local derby grudge match.
With so much of pride and purpose riding on this game, Crown would be eager to snap up their fifth title just as much as Svay Rieng would be desperate to win their maiden league championship, an honour that has eluded them all these years.
Head to head this season they are all square at one win apiece. But toss-ups between these two familiar foes are not about bald statistics at all. Its all about how well they size each other up and which one of the two can maximise their inherent potential on the day and minimise on pressure-induced errors.
Four-time champions Crown, who missed out on the playoffs last year, are brimming with confidence after rounding off their league campaign in splendid fashion, their 3-1 win over Svay Rieng in that run well worth noting.
One eye-catching mid-season signing for Crown has been Dutch striker Ellroy van der Hooft, who has been striking terror among rival defenders, often giving them a torrid time with his pace and craft.
The side as a whole look remarkably composed and transformed under the stewardship of head coach Sam Schweingruber, and it would come as no surprise if the 2010 and 2011 winners worked their way back to the summit.
Whatever prompted a name change at the start of the season, the Svay Rieng camp is fervently hoping that the new tag will lead them to their championship dream.
So much of the team’s attacking options hinge on national team forward Khoun Laboravy, who has the added incentive of being at the top of the goal scorers list at 18, just one ahead of Boeung Ket hitman Bisan George, who in turn is one ahead of Nwakuna Friday of Kirivong Sok Sen Chey.
So semi-final day will also hold out an exciting side show in that two-way contest for the Golden Boot.
The winners of tomorrow’s matches will progress to the following Saturday’s final, while the losers go on to a third-fourth place playoff the day before.