IN a fitting climax to the 2011 Metfone C League season, title holders Phnom Penh Crown, who sealed the championship title a week in advance, staged a splendid second half rally to hold their arch-rivals Naga Corp to a safe 3-3 draw at the Olympic Stadium yesterday.
The high intensity draw kept Crown’s nine-match unbeaten streak in the second phase intact and took their 18-match tally to 45 points, four clear of 2009 champions Naga Corp, the only side in the competition to beat the champs 4-0 in the first leg. For the record, last year’s runners-up Preah Khan Reach finished third with 31 points ahead of Ministry of National Defence (29 points).
“It goes without saying that I am disappointed. We had so many chances to wrap up the game and we missed two very good chances even during the injury time. That’s the way it is. There are many positives for us this season though we couldn’t get the title. We have the League’s highest scorer Julius Oiboh, we scored more goals than Crown and we were the only side to win against them,” said Naga coach Prak Sovannara, modestly playing down his own personal high of being named as the best manager.
It took a diving header from Esoh Omogba off a tidily sent pass across the goal mouth by none other than the mercurial Julius Oiboh to set the Naga passion on fire. Armed with that early success, Naga were decidedly the sharper side and the same combination came up with an amazing link up to double the lead.
This time Omogba’s trusty right foot doing the trick when presented with a short cross of pinpoint accuracy from Julius. Amid mounting pressure on the backline, Crown managed to free themselves for a counter which led to their first goal under a strange set of circumstances.
Naga defender Soeung Mony Rath apparantly chested the ball down in the big box, but that’s not the way the Crown players or referee Khoun Virak saw the incident. Amid vehement protests from Naga players, the referee stuck to his guns and doled out a yellow card to the defender for handling the ball and a penalty to Crown.
After Kinglsley Metu’s first take was negated for some Crown players rushing in too soon, the big striker sent the Naga goalkeeper Phoung Ratana the wrong way with his second.
But the response from Naga for what the team clearly saw as a dubious award came inevitably from Julius, who left at least three defenders chasing his shadow inside the box before slotting the ball past Crown keeper Peng Bunchay. Coming as it did at the stroke of half-time, Naga took the break in a relatively buoyant mood at 3-1, shifting the load onto Crown.
With coach David Booth opting for some personnel changes, and Crown growing increasingly sharper on the break, Crown quickly turned promise into a goal when a fierce Kuoch Sokumpheak free kick from the left of the field just outside the box beat the Naga wall and the keeper.
Even as Naga were ruing several narrow misses came that big moment for Crown when Kingsley Metu worked his way to the top of the box and found the right pace and placing to the left of Phoung Ratana. The equaliser could not have come at a better time for Crown.
There were some rapid fire exchanges at both ends but it was Naga who suffered the most when it came to narrow squeaks. Chhim sambo fired wide when he was barely yards in front of an open goal and twice in the dying minutes substitute Chhin Chouen drove the ball straight to Crown keeper Bunchay from touching distance.
Chan Chaya came closest to winning the game at the other end for Crown, but his well directed shot was tipped over by Phoung Ratana.
“I never felt we were out of the game. Not even when we were down 1-3. We kept fighting and the results came in the second half. I tried some youngsters in defence. It didn’t work out well in the first half.
“I brought in a striker as a replacement for a defender late in the game and that gamble worked. Yes, I am happy to keep the unbeaten record and the team is now looking forward to the AFC Challange Cup,” said coach David Booth, who took over the Crown reins from Croatian Bojan Hodak at the start of the second leg.
Apart from the glittering trophy, Crown won a cash prize of 60 million Riel (about $15,000), while second placed Naga picked up 46 million Riel and third placed Preah Khan Reach walked away with 36 million Riel.
The Military Police-backed PKR also garnered the fair play trophy and with it a cash incentive of 4 million Riel.
The referees team of Khoun Virak, Kim Sivisal, Yean Vattana and Thong Kitya was named the best, winning a cash prize of 4 million riel.
Individual awards of 2 million riel each went to PKR’s Chea Samnang as the best player, Naga’s Julius Oiboh (highest scorer with 28 goals), Naga coach Prak Sovanara (best manager) and Crown’s Peng Bunchay (best goalkeeper).