Phnom Penh Crown maintained their year's perfect record beating Naga Corp 3-2 at Olympic Stadium Saturday while Defence Ministry grabbed a late winner to steal the points from Preah Khan Reach.
Phnom Penh Crown's 17-year-old star forward Keo Sokngorn (centre, kneeling) celebrates his second goal with teammates against Naga Corp during their Cambodian Premier League match at Olympic Stadium Saturday.
ONE thing you don't want to do against the reigning league and cup winners is go behind early. But with almost the first attack of the match, champions Crown put themselves in the driving seat over the startled Naga. After a neat bit of skill on the right wing by Chan Chaya that drew in Naga defenders, the ball was laid off to Keo Sokngorn who slotted a delightful through ball to Crown hitman Jean Roger Lappe Lappe. The lanky Cameroonian striker had netted two past a bewildered Young Lions side in the Singapore Cup first round Monday and needed no second invitiation to open his Cambodian Premier League account, smashing his shot past Naga keeper Chaom Veasna.
To their credit, Naga fought straight back, with newly signed African forward Sunday Okonkwo having his vicious left-foot strike expertly tipped wide by Frenchman Simon Tracol. From the ensuing corner, the ball fell for Joseph Oyewole on the edge of the box, but his stinging effort drifted inches wide.
Crown double their lead
With quarter of an hour gone, Naga were pushed back further when miscommunication between defender and keeper allowed an Ek Sovanara cross to ricochet off them and land at the feet of Crown frontman Keo Sokngorn 3 yards out to pass into an empty net.
At the other end, Okonkwo was doing his best to keep the Crown defence busy, but couldn't find the clinical touch needed to snatch a goal back for Naga.
With Crown taking a two-goal advantage into the break, a sense of inevitability swept the crowd with the game looking to play out a tame one-sided affair. However, Naga seemed to emerge from the changing rooms with renewed vigour and purpose to give Crown a run for their money.
Playing conditions at the start were akin to that of a sauna, the dampness underfoot from a lunchtime downpour turned into vapour from the scorching midday sun.
"It was difficult for me to adapt [to the heat]," admitted Crown keeper Tracol afterwards. "Its not like in France."
Indeed, fans in the stand were breaking sweat just watching. Clouds eventually swept in for the second half to give the players a breather and lift the pace of the game. However, Crown manager Makara Be admitted his side were hampered by the blustery breeze. "We found play in the second half a little bit difficult because of the wind," he said.
Tracol was clearly struggling, with his clearances often failing to make the halfway line.
Naga's Meas Channa was having another standout performance, just like in the March 28 Cup final, but his telling crosses yet again failed to find attacking bodies.
Cambodian national teammates Om Thavarak and Teang Tiny had a minor off-the-ball tussle to indicate that tempers between the sides were wearing thin.
Naga's Neang Chenla then went in the referee's book when he followed through on a header with a raking high boot to Crown's Chan Chaya to initiate another shoving match.
Players of Phnom Penh Crown (in blue) and Naga Corp surround the referee to argue a decision of handling outside the area by Naga Corp goalkeeper Chaom Veasna (left, foreground) during their CPL game Saturday.
Crown appear to seal win
Despite Naga piling on the pressure, a rare Crown breakaway in the 68th minute saw Lappe Lappe head down into the path of Keo Sokngorn, the 17-year-old showing class and composure to crack a sublime volley from distance into the bottom right corner. Now three up, Crown seemed to be out of Naga's reach. Or at least they thought.
Undeterred by the scoreline, Naga kept Crown on the back foot for much of the remainder of the game until finally they created the breakthrough.
With just 8 minutes to go, Okonkwo made up for his earlier misses when poor man-marking allowed him enough touches to control a Meas Channa cross and fire past a rooted Tracol from close range.
Remarkably, this was Crown's first conceded goal this year, having kept a clean sheet throughout their entire triumphant 2009 Samdech Hun Sen Cup campaign.
The game from there on out became somewhat scrappy.
Lappe Lappe was clean through on goal, but the Naga keeper came flying out to make a slide challenge, seemingly handling the ball outside the area. Crown players surrounded the ref and shouted appeals to the linesman, but neither official displayed the confidence to make a strong decision. With a freekick awarded to Crown, Chaom Veasna miraculously escaped a booking, let alone a dismissal, and the Crown set piece was struck straight into the wall.
In the dying seconds of an already lengthy injury time, Naga managed to grab another consolation goal with Sun Sovanarith knocking home a 5-yard box scramble. Tensions then boiled over as players clashed on the way back to the centre circle. Crown's Sun Sophanha and Naga's Meas Channa were sent off for fighting to end the game on a sour note.
After the game, Crown manager Makara Be noted that Naga were allowed to get a fingerhold in the game due to a defensive substitution at the start of the second half. "We changed one defender [Ek Sovanara] due to injury," he said. "The new player [Tes Sophat] did not communicate well]"
Defence Ministry upset PKR
In Saturday's later kickoff, National Defence Ministry (MND) upset Preah Khan Reach (PKR) with a late winner to give them a flying start to their season. A somewhat stale contest saw PKR squander a hatful of chances in front of the posts, including hitting the bar twice in the early moments. In the 81st minute, MND capitalised on only their third advance into the opposition's area during the entire game. Oum Kampheak jiggled his way past defenders on the byline before launching an unstoppable drive into the far top corner to spark wild celebrations on the MND bench.
Africans' continental class
Sunday's games displayed the dominance of the African involvement in the CPL. Spark FC and Build Bright University (BBU) played out a 1-1 draw with Spark's Justin Prince and BBU's Oriola Ogunsanwo notching goals. Later, Khemera Keila took their first points of the season with a 1-0 victory over navy side Phouchung Neak. Nelson Oladiji scored the solitary goal.
Photos by Nick Sells (www.nicksellsphotography.com)