The stage is set for an action-packed grand finale of the Phnom Penh Post Mini Soccer Championships as four of the toughest teams emerging out of a long winding league phase battle for top honours at the Kidzcool Astorturf pitch tomorrow.
The upper crust consists of top of the table JBCF, followed by reigning champions Devenco, third placed Smart and playoff debutants Infinity.
JBCF hold a 2-0 head-to-head advantage over Infinity this season while Smart managed to turn around a 1-5 loss to grab a 7-6 victory over Devenco to square off their regular season meetings. In last year’s final, the two fought a thrilling duel with Devenco scrapping through to clinch the title.
“It will be a no holds barred contest and nothing but a triumph will please me,” said Billy Barnaart, who runs the team as well as Phnom Penh based amateur club Bayon Wanderers. Barnaart is also the founder of Jeannine and Billy’s Children’s Foundation, a local charity organisation that helps children and families affected by AIDS, which has helped produce the jerseys for the mini soccer teams this season.
The Dutchman’s side have been in blazing form throughout, losing just two close games to Devenco and scoring a phenomenal 115 goals more than they conceded.
But regular season dominance is not a guarantee for playoff success and no one knows this better than JBCF who went into the final day last year as league toppers only to end up losing the semifinals against Smart and then the third place playoff to finish a tame fourth.
“That still rankles,” said 63-year-old Barnaart. “There were lessons to be learnt from that performance. The key to success is keep scoring goals.
“It is very important for the team as a whole and me personally to do well in this event. We have won two tournaments in the last ten months.
“We took the Charity Cup last year and won the Cambodian Country Club event. I hope we can stretch that winning streak here.”
Of greater significance for the inveterate veteran is his return to the pitch after a lengthy recovery from a surgery on his right foot following an infection. “I played as a substitute here and there, but I am happy I am back on the pitch after what I have gone through in the last few months.”
While JBCF focus on attack, Devenco captain Khith Sipin has concerns between the sticks.
“We are trying to get the goalkeeper who did so well last year,” he said. “But if he can’t make it then we’ll have to settle for one of the [outfield] players keeping the goal. [But] I am happy with the team’s form.”
For playoff first-timers Infinity, it has been a great learning experience and CEO David Carter said “solid performance has put us in a good position to finish well.”
“We are quietly confident about our chances – we look forward to performing well on the day,” he added.
Smart was a revelation last year and the team has added strength to its ranks. Going into this year’s finale, captain Kirill Mankovsky is confident that the team will live up to its potential.
“Smart has strong contenders to beat but we appreciate the fairplay concept. Let the strongest team win,” he said.
Tomorrow’s schedule also includes a friendly game between the female staff of Ezecom and Kidzcool before the grand final. There are several attractive prizes on offer for both team and individual performances, and the organisers are ensuring a delicious ending to the largest mini soccer event in the city by throwing a BBQ party after the awards ceremony.
Kidzcool is set to close after the weekend, with the last action on the Astroturf set to be the Metro RAHU Charity Cup on Sunday.
JBCF v Infinity – 10am
Devenco v Smart – 10:45am
3rd place playoff – 11:45am
Grand final - 12:30pm