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Crown march on in AFC Cup

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Phnom Penh Crown's Chan Chaya (second left) celebrates scoring what turns out to be the game winning goal against Abhani Limited during their AFC President's Cup group match at Olympic Stadium yesterday. Photo by: Sreng Meng Srun

Phnom Penh Crown's Chan Chaya (second left) celebrates scoring what turns out to be the game winning goal against Abhani Limited during their AFC President's Cup group match at Olympic Stadium yesterday. Photo by: Sreng Meng Srun

Hard working midfielder Chan Chaya struck a vital blow in the 80th minute from a goal-mouth scramble to haul Phnom Penh Crown past Bangladesh champions Abhani Limited 1-0 before a motley crowd at Olympic Stadium yesterday, ensuring a place for the Cambodians in the next phase of the 2011 AFC President’s Cup.

Earlier in the afternoon, Neftchi Kochor Ata of Kyrgyzstan dictated their own pace and terms in downing Sri Lanka’s Don Bosco Sports Club 2-0 for their second victory in Pool A. Coach Dzhalilov Zakir’s men were unfazed by the dismissal of Rakhmanjonov for his second booking on the hour mark and fired a goal in each half to also secure their place in the next round. The side’s Uzbek recruit Pavlov Pavel got the first and midfielder Aleksander Beldinov doubled the lead midway through the second half.

Neftchi and Crown play tomorrow at 4pm to determine the final standings from Pool A, while Abhani and Don Bosco will figure earlier at 1:30pm in a match of honour.

It is not celebration time yet if you ask Crown’s Croatian-born Coach Bojan Hodak, who feels there is still the serious business of topping the group left. Neftchi’s young coach Zakir, whose theatrics and animated gestures during a game has become a hit with the crowd, also left no one in doubt at the post match press conference that his side is out to win all three games.

Yesterday’s game between Crown and Abhani was “fifty-fifty” according to Hodak, although Crown appeared decidedly dominant in the second half. Abhani coach Aliakbar Pourmoslemi simplified it even further. “Both sides had almost equal chances. We failed to convert them – they did,” he said.

Pourmoslemi held out no excuses but took pains to point out that the team had been hamstrung by injuries to some key players and was forced to use their third choice goalkeeper because the top two couldn't make the trip.

“I have two more good foreign players, but I couldn’t use them here because we are allowed only two foreign players here,” he said, adding that they would now “go back and try to do well in our league.”

After a barren first half of exciting twists and turns during which both sides enjoyed several set-piece chances, the contest came to a boil as the teams went at each others’ throats.

A couple of lively runs by Kouch Sokhumpeak had stirred the Abhani defence though the backline had remained vigilant enough to deprive the home side a goal.

In another thrustful counter, Mohammad Robin drove the ball straight at Crown keeper Peng Bunchhay who boasted a clean slate in five previous matches. That confidence showed in his collection and watch throughout the game.

Crown forced two corners with time ticking away and the second brought the result the crowd had been fervently cheering for. A good Sun Sophana delivery to the near post set off a chaotic scrap in which Kingsley Metu had the presence of mind to turn the ball to Chan Chaya, whose flick conveniently beat the frenzy.

In a flash, the contest had turned tantalisingly Crown’s way with the team ending their President’s Cup hoodoo by making it past the pool stage for the first time. Crown incidentally is only the second team from Cambodia to qualify for phase two of this prestigious regional club competition after Khemara Keila made it to the semifinals in 2006.

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