Saturday’s Metfone C-League Super 4 play-off final at Olympic Stadium between the all-encompassing Boeung Ket Rubber and ever-alluring Svay Rieng is a virtual remake of last year’s semi-final.
Defending champions Boeung Ket, who owed their title success last year in their first season in the top tier to the ingenuity of Julius Oibor more than anything else, would be too happy if the script is the same but Svay Rieng, looking for their first ever success in nearly 10 years of hard labour, would love to alter the climax to realise their ultimate dream.
This is a match-up few would have bargained for at the tail end of the league phase.
Here they are face-to-face in a showdown of exciting possibilities having come through entertaining yet intriguing semifinals. The title holders taken all the way to extra time by ghastly outsiders Build Bright United and Svay Rieng surviving a touch-and-go seven-goal cruncher against their familiar foes Phnom Penh Crown.
Initially, a Naga Corp discovery and signing the previous season, Oibor appeared for Boeung Ket in those two crucial 2012 Super 4 play-off games. He has since moved on and is currently playing in the Thai Premier League after emerging as the top scorer in a division below.
But images of him single-handedly fashioning Boeung Ket’s victory in last year’s clash are still fresh in Svay Rieng coach Sam Vandeth’s memory.
“At that time, we didn’t know clearly about the strengths and tactics of Boeung Ket. For example, their new player then Julius Oibor,” Sam Vandeth told the Post.
“He was on Boeung Ket’s books but had not played during the regular season. When he came to join Boeung Ket for the Super 4 stage, he played very well, especially inciting two Svay Rieng players to get red cards.” In the Svay Rieng tactician’s reckoning those were lessons well learned.
“Boueng Ket still have good foreign players, especially their midfielder Momoh Deguile, striker Bisan George and defender Darlington [Chukwuma Ohuruogo]. They are well organised,” conceded Sam Vandeth. But he has spotted a chip on his rivals shoulder too.
“[Boeung Ket’s] weakness is their Cambodian players. If we compare them to our local players, our boys are better and younger than Boeung Ket’s.”
Striker Khun Laboravy holds a special place in all of Svay Rieng’s attacking estimates, though he has had to deal with niggling injury worries in one form or another at various points in the season.
With 19 goals to his credit he is the clear front-runner ahead of Boeung Ket’s Bisan George at 17 for the coveted Golden Boot and this sub-plot could significantly build up the drama.
In the backline, Sok Rithy mans an important post while midfielder Prak Mony Udom and forward Soun Veasna have supporting roles to play.
Once they get down to the pitch, Svay Rieng may well take a leaf out of the BBU book on how well to deal with Boeung Ket’s forward power, especially that of Bisan George who was tightly monitored by BBU’s African trio. Svay Rieng could well deploy similar blockading tactics.
Boeung Ket’s resilience was put to a severe test at the start of the second phase of the league when the side was seemingly rattled by a sudden dip in form.
Starting with a narrow loss to West Bank Champs Hilal Al-Quds in AFC President’s Cup qualifiers group decider, Boeung Ket ran into rough weather in the Singapore Cup and upon their return fell into a couple of startling defeats.
Some Boeung Ket insiders went to the extent of suggesting that coach Prak Vuthy, who had done a brilliant job by winning the first 11 games of the league season, was so much under pressure that he had wondered whether he should part ways. He pulled his socks up and so did the team.
Given the circumstances, nothing would please Prak Vuthy more than a successful defence of the title.
In Boeung Ket manager Be Makara’s refreshingly bold words: “We respect our rivals but we fear no one. If we play to our full potential I am confident we can win.”
Whichever way this showdown shapes and whoever ultimately wins, chronicles would mark 2013 as a special edition.
If it is Svay Rieng, then it is a historic first. If it were to be Boeung Ket, it is a spire atop an already lofty achievement as the first team ever to win the title in its debut season.
While the final deservedly garners riveting attention, the beaten semi-finalists, Phnom Penh Crown and Build Bright United will play off for third place at the Olympic Stadium today. Both games kickoff at 3pm.