Phnom Penh Crown’s Tieng Tiny (C) tries to shield the ball from teammates Hong Pheng (R) and Leng Makara during a training session at RSN Field in Tuol Kork district last Wednesday. Photograph: Sreng Meng Srun/Phnom Penh Post
Phnom Penh Crown flew out to the Tajikistan capital of Dushanbe on Saturday morning, hoping to quickly forget their fruitless domestic season with success at the 2012 AFC President’s Cup. The 2011 Metfone C-League champions finished fifth to miss out on the Super 4 playoffs for the first time this year, on top of crashing out of the 2012 Samdech Hun Sen Cup at the quarterfinal stage.
However, Englishman David Booth will look to steer his side to the grand final of the regional club competition for the second edition in a row. “It will be interesting to see our team perform as it’s much different and inexperienced compared to last year,” Booth said of his side that were beaten 3-2 by Taiwan Power Company in last year’s fractious final when three Crown players were sent off.
“The past is past, it’s time to move on. The future is important now,” added the coach.
Crown eased in the finals stage after coming second behind Kyrgyzstan’s Dordoi Bishkek in Group B of the preliminary round held in Phnom Penh in May. The squad of 18 players and five officials faced an arduous journey to Dushanbe on Saturday, taking connections flights via Guangzhou and Urumqi in Southeast and Northwest China respectively.
The team are booked to fly back home on September 30, the day of the final, and will be forced to repeat the rescheduling headache of last year if they make it to the championship decider once again.
“The AFC provide a travel fund but its not nearly enough, so this trip is costing the club a pretty penny,” Crown media officer Andy Brouwer told the Post.
Crown’s two-man foreign contingent was expected to include midfield playmaker Emmanuel Frimpong of Ghana and Nigerian central defender Odion Obadin, but the latter was sent back to Cambodia by Chinese immigration police on Saturday after being refused a visa on entry. Brouwer stated on his personal blog (cambodiafootball.blogspot.com) yesterday that the club were looking into arranging another route to Tajikistan for Obadin. “The disappearance of Obadin has left a sour taste in the mouth ahead of the club’s most important games of the season,” wrote Brouwer.
Star striker Kouch Sokumpheak, meanwhile, is the only other major absentee after being ruled out with a serious knee ligament injury.
The team were struggling to train twice a day at a water-logged RSN Stadium ground in Tuol Kork district last week and will hope to get plenty of practice on the sun-scorched turf of Tajikistan ahead of their opening match against Dordoi Bishkek on Wednesday.
Two-time Cup winners and 2010 runners-up Dordoi blazed a trail through the group phase, winning all three game including a 1-0 victory over Crown thanks to a 90th minute penalty by Azamat Baymatov. The Kyrgyzstan champions feature the offensive might of Mirlan Murzaev, who leads the scoring charts with an incredible eight goals. However, Booth noted he would not be making special plans to contain the Kyrgyzstani hotshot. “We can only prepare our own style and formation. To change for on player isn’t needed, only concentration and a little tighter marking,” he said.
Crown are bracketed in the three-team Group A along with Dordoi and hometown hopefuls Istiqlol, who play each other in today’s opening match at 6pm Cambodian time at Dushanbe’s Central Republican Stadium.
Holders Taiwan Power Company then begin their Group B campaign against Palestinian club Markaz Shabab Al-Am’ari at 9pm Cambodian time. The remaining team in the 2012 finals is KRL FC of Pakistan.
To contact the reporter on this story: Dan Riley at [email protected]