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Crown starts league with a flourish

Phnom Penh Crown route Wat Phnom 8-1 on Saturday in the opening fixture of the 2010 Metfone C-League


Phnom Penh Crown’s Oscar Mpoko (second left) comes under pressure from Wat Phnom’s Nathan Nwaowu during their Metfone C-League match Saturday.

PHNOM Penh Crown wasted no time in announcing their intentions to recapture the Cambodian Premier League title – now called the Metfone C-League – with a goal from new signing Uche Prince Justine within the first minute of the opening game Saturday at Olympic Stadium.

Crown, who finished ahead of everyone else in the regular season last term but were foiled in the Super 4 playoffs, have strengthened their squad with foreign and homegrown talent for the 2010 campaign, and proved far too strong for their Wat Phnom opponents, who played as Spark FC last season.
With Uche Justine in attack and Sani Saidu at centre-half, they have captured two of the league’s best players and have also added Friday Nwakuna (from Naga Corp) and Goodluck Cliff (Build Bright United), neither of whom played Saturday, to their foreign contingent.
With an earlier-than-advertised kickoff because of television commitments, many in the crowd were still filtering in when Justine gave Crown a first-minute lead against his former club. Cameroonian Oscar Mpoko served up the chance on a plate and caught the eye throughout with his midfield mastery.

It was a first half dominated by Crown’s new boys, with Keo Chea, recruited from the Kep provincial team, finishing in style to put his new club two up in the fifth minute. Crown then squandered a hatful of chances before Sok Pheng, another fresh face from Khemara and who’d been guilty of some wasteful finishing, netted a third five minutes before the halftime break.

By that time, Wat Phnom were finding it impossible to keep pace with their classy opponents, having been reduced to 10 men on the half-hour when Chhun Mesa was shown his second yellow card. Referee Yien Kivatanak is fast earning himself a reputation for pettiness, and the six yellows and one red card he brandished bore no reflection on a very sporting game.

In the second priod, Crown took their foot off the gas and Wat Phnom’s Ry Pharoeun found a gap down the middle and took his chance well on 67 minutes to bring a smile to his beleaguered teammates. But Crown stormed back with two goals in as many minutes.

Mpoko took a pass from Justine in his stride, shimmied past a defender and coolly slotted into the corner, while Sun Sopanha drove a low shot through a forest of legs from the edge of the penalty box.

Crown were cruising, and their mercurial teenager Keo Sokngorn added to the scoreline with a diving header from Keo Chea’s pinpoint centre on 78 minutes. Justine netted his second on 84 minutes with a trademark powerful run, fending off two defenders en route and finishing with aplomb.
He then turned provider for substitute Chan Chhaya to poke home number eight for a rampant Crown.

Despite two goals on his debut, it was a bittersweet moment for Justine, last season’s Golden Boot winner with 21 goals in 18 games while playing for the opposing team. “I felt bad,” he said after the game. “It was sad to score against my former team. It wasn’t easy as they are like my brothers, my family. But I’m a professional footballer and I was pleased to score for my new club.”

Photos by Nick Sells (www.nicksellsphotography.com)

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