It required a glittering strike by none other than the man with the golden boot and best player of the season, Khoun Laboravy, to end Svay Rieng’s years of frustrating Metfone C-League championship drought.
In a showpiece at Olympic Stadium on Saturday that will be long remembered for its wild swings and weird Boeung Ket misses, Svay Rieng delivered the title for the new owners with a 1-0 victory after seven failed attempts as Preah Khan Reach.
On top of winning the coveted league honour Svay Rieng had desperately been wishing for, the club also swept clean the major individual awards. Sam Vandeth deservedly walked away as the season’s best coach, while Am Sovannarath was adjudged the best goalkeeper, his gritty performance in the final just one persuasive reason.
Finally, the Golden Boot fitted Khoun Laboravy perfectly well. The only player close enough to snatch it away from him, Boeung Ket hitman Bisan George on 17 goals, was certainly not at his shooting best on the day.
For defending champions Boeung Ket Rubber Field, the evening unravelled in the 40th minute when a striker who has often shaped the destiny of Svay Rieng on special occasions did just that with a spectacular goal, his 20th of the season and most precious in his club’s recent memory.
The beauty of the goal lay in the manner it was delivered — from 25 yards out, well-directed and packed with enough power to end its flight at the roof of the net. It was so sudden that it almost instantly changed the dynamics on the pitch.
When the teams emerged from the break, it was obvious that the defending champions would throw everything they could lay their hands on at Svay Rieng. This was the phase in which the would-be titleists looked most vulnerable, hassled as they repeatedly were.
But, amazingly, they were also extremely fortunate in that Boeung Ket messed up one promising chance after another. A firm Keo Sokpheng attempt scraped the crossbar paint and possibly Svay Rieng keeper Am Sovanarath’s fingertips, but the mother of all horrible misses came from Chan Vathanaka.
Presented with an open goal, he overdid a regulation header from well inside the box — what should have been a simple task for a player of his talent. He shook his head in part disgust, part shock.
The Boeung Ket camp was visibly rattled, and quite a few were hopping mad. A few minutes later, Vathanaka was warming the bench. A clear setback and a sad moment for the 19-year-old and the team.
The 2012 league winners could perhaps ruefully look back at Keo Sokngorn’s effort annoyingly going to waste. At times by sheer accident, good moves were broken up or Boeung Ket kept missing the mark.
Given the ferocious frequency with which they were attacked, Svay Rieng should regard themselves lucky to have survived such moments.
Yet to their credit, it must be said, the military police-backed side grimly defended their lead, counterattacking with great verve and adventure.
Minutes before the end of regulation time, Svay Rieng almost doubled their lead, a cannon-like header from James Adekunle from a corner flashing inches wide of the post.
There were some intense injury-time theatrics at both ends, but the title clash ultimately boiled down to the survival of the bravest, and Svay Rieng for that display of raw courage deserved a stroke or two of fortune.
Boeung Ket manager Be Makara summed up the mood of the final with the candid words: “They had one good chance in the first half — they scored. We had many, many, both in the first and second half, we missed all.”
Overwhelmed with joy, Sam Vandeth declared that this was the happiest moment of his footballing life and the credit for winning this maiden title should go to the entire Svay Rieng Football Club community — the owners, players, coaching staff, club officials and fans. “It is a triumph for teamwork,” the coach told the Post.
Crown capture third, BBU fourth
On Friday, four-time champions Phnom Penh Crown, despite losing the services of the seasoned Kouch Sokumpheak for two bookable offences, edged out Build Bright United 1-0 in a third place playoff at the Olympic Stadium.
The winning goal came in the 104th minute through a penalty conversion by Dutch striker Elroy van der Hooft, a rough tackle on whom by the BBU goalkeeper had led to the spot-kick.
Fortune favours award-winners
For Svay Rieng, their maiden triumph in the league also came with a handsome prize money of 58 million riel ($14,370). Boeung Ket as runners-up picked up 48 million riel, and an additional four million riel for the Fair Play Award, while third placed Phnom Penh Crown got 36 million riel.
Football Federation of Cambodia president Sao Sokha announced that the Super 4 playoff format, which sees the top four teams from the regular season progress to semi-finals, will continue next year.
“We will continue with this system and also start the league next season in January, like we did this time,” the FFC chief replied to a pointed question on the subject raised by the Post on Saturday.