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Crown face MND in Cup final

Phnom Penh Crown will look to clinch their third successive Samdech Hun Sen Cup title Sunday while National Defence Ministry could claim their first


Phnom Penh Crown hotshot Keo Sokngorn (left) will be one of the top local talents on show at the 2010 Samdech Hun Sen Cup final this Sunday from 3pm at Olympic Stadium.

THE Samdech Hun Sen Cup final Sunday at Olympic Stadium features a blockbuster matchup of two well-known Cambodian clubs: Phnom Penh Crown, who are chasing a sensational third successive Cup title, and National Defence Ministry (MND), who are making their first appearance in the final.

In last Saturday’s semifinals, Crown emerged victorious after a drama-filled penalty shootout against classic enemies Naga Corp, and MND bumped out military rivals Preah Khan Reach 1-0 in a somewhat anticlimactic affair.

Despite their impressive record in the competition, Crown manager Be Makara says his side have a 50-50 chance against MND in the final. He voiced respect for MND’s “young and elegant players” but said that he, along with team coach Apisit Im Amphai of Thailand, had identified some weaknesses in their opponents, though he declined to give details.

The ambitious coach was disatisfied with his team’s shaky victory over Naga last Saturday, which he attributed to inadequacies at the back that allowed their opponents to come back from three goals down in the first half to level the game and force penalties. “It’s shameful that we let Naga Corp get the same 3-0 score in the second half that we made in the first. It was a weakness of our defence. I have told the players that we can’t look down on our opponents when we are ahead and there is time still left. We need to play hard until the very end.”

Crown defender Lor Pichseila will miss the finals due to his dismissal in the semifinals, and defenders Thul Sothearith, Srey Vesna and goalkeeper Peng Bunchhay are also suspended after receiving two yellow cards each in previous rounds.

“We will use Thong Chanrasmey, our second-choice goalkeeper,” said Be Makara. “It will be hard work for him because he has never played in a full competitive match for us.” However, the manager took comfort in the return of Chan Rithy and his young brother Chan Dara, who come into the game in good health.

Crown striker Keo Sokgnorn said that he will try his best to score more goals for the team, and expects to clinch their third consecutive title. Defender Tieng Tiny, meanwhile, hopes that he and teammates have learned their lessons from the previous matches and will play with stoic determination Sunday.

A new rule for this year’s tournament excluded all foreign players from the team squads. The rule played right into the hands of MND, who are known as the “troop team” for always fielding a 100 percent Cambodian lineup.

A solitary strike by Um Kompheak in the 27th minute against Preah Khan Reach last week was all that was necessary to open a new chapter in the club’s Cup history.

Tep Long Rachana is now manager of MND after previously plying his trade as assistant coach for both the national team and Phnom Penh Crown. During Tuesday’s training session at the National Training Centre of the Royal Armed Forces of Cambodia, assistant coach Op Sam Ath expressed the team’s gratitude to ministry officials, who he says have helped the club reach the finals this year.

The coach also asserted that, although Crown are generally regarded as the best team in Cambodia, the playing field had been leveled with the omission of their talented foreign players. “We really want our fans to see the team’s realise their potential and claim this championship,” he said. “However, we can’t ignore [the abilities] of two-time champions Phnom Penh Crown at all.”

With no players suspended for previous misdemeanours, the MND squad will be at full strength Sunday to attempt the historic upset. Right winger Nov Soseila has recovered from an ankle injury, but goalkeeper Sou Yaty has yet to confirm availability after spraining his wrist.

Op Sam Ath expressed his general content with the performances of his players so far in the competition, especially Um Kompheak, but wished to avoid a repeat of their nail-biter shootout win over Koh Kong in the last-16 round. The Army team had failed to find the net against their opponents and had edged the spot kicks 4-3 to progress.

MND captain and forward Khim Borey appreciates that his team face a tough adversary. “I’m really optimistic ahead of kickoff for this Sunday’s final, but it will be hard to win against Phnom Penh Crown.”

Apart from receiving the gleaming Samdech Hun Sen Cup trophy – which Crown will be allowed to keep if they can win it for the third time in a row Sunday – the triumphant team will take home 80 million riels (US$19,208), while the runners-up earn 40 million riels.

Beaten semifinalists Naga Corp and Preah Khan Reach, meanwhile, will face each other for third-place honours and a cash prize of 20 million riels in a playoff Saturday at 3pm.

Photos by Nick Sells (www.nicksellsphotography.com)

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