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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Crown stay in line for third Cup title after shooting out Naga in semifinal

Crown stay in line for third Cup title after shooting out Naga in semifinal

Phnom Penh Crown beat their bitter rivals Naga Corp on penalites after a riveting 3-3 draw; National Defence Ministry edge out Preah Khan Reach 1-0 in a more tame affair on Saturday

PP Crown 3 Naga Corp 3
(Crown win 7-6 after extra time)

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Phnom Penh Crown's Tieng Tiny (left) attempts to blast a free kick over the Naga Corp wall during their thrilling Samdech Hun Sen Cup semifinal Saturday, which Crown went on to win 7-6 on penalties.

Naga Corp's Teab Vatanak (left) sees his retaken spotkick at the end of extra time saved by Phnom Penh Crown keeper Peng Bunchhay during their Samdech Hun Sen Cup semifinal Saturday at Olmypic Stadium.

National Defence Ministry captain Khim Borey (left) vies with Preah Khan Reach’s Tum Saray during their Cup semifinal Saturday.

THIS clash of the casino-backed titans certainly lived up to its pre-match hype Saturday at Olympic Stadium. The match kicked off in blistering 35-degree heat in front of a large, noisy and expectant crowd who were rewarded with a tie that will live long in memory.

Crown were at full strength and included teenage whizz-kid Keo Sokngorn in their starting lineup, whilst Naga were itching for revenge, after losing in last year’s cup final to their bitter rivals.

The lethargic early exchanges showed no sign of things to come until the game burst into life, with Crown taking control with three goals in a seven-minute spell of pressure that was simply too hot for Naga to handle.

On 13 minutes, Keo Sokngorn kept a steady head when he coolly rolled the ball into an unguarded net from thirty yards out after Naga stopped for an offside flag that never came. Five minutes later, he was at it again, selling a dummy to Naga skipper Om Thavarak and rifling the ball into the roof of the net for his second.

The fixture looked as if it was all over after 20 minutes when Crown scored their third. Naga’s Neang Chenla lost the ball on the halfway line and exposed his teammates, who failed to halt Chan Chhaya’s run, step inside and well-struck drive across the face of keeper Chom Veasna to find the far corner.

With referee Thong Chankethya collecting names and brandishing cards for fun, the signs were ominous that the game wouldn’t end with the full complement of players. The best chance for Naga came, and went, on 36 minutes when Crown goalkeeper Peng Bunchhay showed his nerves and dropped a routine catch onto the foot of Sun Sovannrithy, who managed to spoon it over the bar from a yard out.

The ugly side of Cambodian football reared up just four minutes before the interval, when Sun Sovannrithy went down clutching his face, claiming he’d been elbowed by Lor Pichseila, who was booked in the incident. The Naga team manager called his players to the touchline and threatened a walk-off before Cambodian Football Federation officials persuaded him to think again and send his players back out to complete the half.

It echoed a similar incident in last season’s playoffs, when Crown left the field after disputing a referee’s decision. The delay lasted 12 minutes, left a bitter taste in the mouths of those watching, and showed again that Cambodia has some way to go to eradicate such unprofessional conduct.

The second half had a very different look to its predecessor. Ten minutes in and Naga grabbed a lifeline when Chek Sokhom floated a forty yard hit-and-hope over the flailing arms of Peng Bunchhay and into the roof of the Crown net. The jittery keeper quickly made amends with a couple of good stops as Naga continued to press, while Crown appeared content to sit on their lead.

On 75 minutes, Naga were well and truly back in the hunt when Sun Sovannrithy neatly controlled and fired in on the run after an exquisite pass from substitute Kim Chanbunrith.

With five minutes to go, Lor Pichseila inexplicably raised his hand and touched the ball in the area, received a red card for his stupidity and allowed Naga’s Kim Chanbunrith to fire home the equaliser from the penalty spot. It was a comeback worthy of any Cup semifinal, with extra time was assured and Crown now down to ten men.

Four minutes into the first period of extra time, referee Chankethya leveled the numbers when he flashed a red card to Naga’s Om Thavarak for a senseless late tackle. Bookings continued to mount up with the match official’s final count totalling 14 yellows and 2 reds.

Both teams hit the post in extra time – Chin Chom for Naga and Tieng Tiny for Crown – before Naga were handed the opportunity to record a historic comeback with just a minute of extra time left. Sun Sovannrithy was clattered by goalkeeper Peng Bunchhay as he sped through and the referee pointed to the penalty spot. Teab Vatanak took the kick instead of regular spotkick specialist Kim Chanbunrith, and Peng pulled off a great save to leave half of the audience stunned into silence. The other half were euphoric, as the thrill of penalty kicks would decide which team would progress to next Saturday’s Cup final.

Naga’s Chin Chum stepped up to send Peng the wrong way with the first penalty, while Crown’s Tieng Tiny skied his team’s first kick. Peng then saved Tong Soto’s weakly struck shot to allow Keo Sokngorn to level it at one apiece.

Kim ballooned the following kick and Crown nosed ahead when Sun Sopanha converted. Sun Sovannrithy netted for Naga, as did Sun Samprathna, with Thul Sothearith also scoring in between to keep the scores equal at three each. With Sam Mina’s kick dramatically saved by Chom Veasna, it now went to sudden death.

Teab Vatanak stepped up for Naga, with his penalty miss in extra time still ringing in his ears, and planted his kick into the corner of the net but was ordered to retake as he stuttered in his run up. After a heated debate between referee and player, he took it a second time only to see Peng easily save his feeble attempt and gift Phuong Narong the opportunity to win the tie.

The Crown man was up to the task, whacking his shot with authority before tearing off his shirt and running to the bench to celebrate a remarkable semifinal success for the reigning champions.

MND 1 Preah Khan Reach 0
The second semifinal Saturday saw the military might of Cambodia’s Army in the shape of the National Defence Ministry (MND) going head-to-head against the Military Police-affiliated Preah Khan Reach (PKR). After the extended playing time of the first semifinal, the game eventually got under way with players failing to shake off the torpidity brought on by the long wait to see early exchanges mired in a midfield squabble.

The only worthy highlight of the first half was the game’s opening goal, which proved to be decisive. Just before the half-hour mark, Suong Virak’s corner was met at the far post by teenage international Um Kompheak, and his quick feet allowed him to rifle home a shot which gave PKR keeper Ouk Mich no chance from eight yards.

The second half produced a little more goalmouth activity, but it paled against the non-stop action of the first semifinal. In Samreth Seiha, MND have the country’s top goalkeeper, and his safe handling and two saves of note in the second period ensured that MND retained their one-goal advantage.

With the second half ten minutes old, Khuonla Boravy’s cross was turned goalwards by the lurking Samel Nasa, but Samreth Seiha was equal to the task with a goalline reaction save. A few minutes later he was off his line in a flash to smother a shot from Tum Saray, after forward had found freedom in the penalty area.

The closest PKR came to equalising was a Khuonla Boravy free kick that rebounded back off the crossbar on 75 minutes, but MND had enough about them to snuff out any further goal threat and joyously emerged 1-0 winners in this all-military affair at the final whistle.

So the stage is now set for an exciting final day of Samdech Hun Sen Cup action, with a third-place playoff between Naga and PKR kicking off at 2pm next Saturday before Crown attempt to clinch their third successive title against MND at 4:15pm.

Photos by Nick Sells (www.nicksellsphotography.com)

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