Moving into the eighth week of action, the Metfone C-League joint leaders Phnom Penh Crown and Naga Corp have tough assignments this weekend ahead of the traditional break for the Khmer New Year celebrations.
At the Old Stadium, Naga face defending champions Svay Rieng in Saturday’s second fixture in a markedly better frame of mind than their rivals, who went through a frustrating experience of splitting points in a goal-less game with Western University on Wednesday.
The Svay Rieng camp is determined to put that outcome behind them and work out a sound formation that can withstand and test the Naga strength. The team elders believe bolstering co-ordination upfront is the key when confronting a side as well-rounded as their opponents tomorrow.
“We’re going in to fight with a big club [in Naga], but I am confident as we have no suspensions or injuries,” Svay Rieng coach Sam Vandeth told the Post.
The title holders tried out their new Ivory Coast recruit James Adekunle on Wednesday, although the coach revealed that it was up to the club to decide whether he would be handed a contract.
Meanwhile, Naga took out a lot of positives from their last week’s robust showing against National Police Commissary and coach Prak Sovannara is reasonably happy that the team is steadily grating the grooves to the levels he has in mind.
Of some concern and anxiety in the Naga camp is the side’s goal scoring average of two per game so far and, given its inherent strike force, the coach obviously expects more on the board.
Before the Svay Rieng-Naga clash, Asia Europe University will be up against Albirex Niigata, who are in a jubilant mood after breaking a six-match duck with their first win of the season against Western University last week.
Four-time league winners Crown haven’t put a foot wrong in this year’s campaign so far. They take on the Police team at the Olympic Stadium on Saturday in a secure feeling that they had won their previous encounter in the group stage of the Hun Sen Cup.
Police’s eventual triumph in that competition was a milestone achievement for the club, but the return to the league campaign was tinged with disappointment after the loss to Naga last week.
Coach Ung Kanyanith is going back to the drawing board to work up a plan to put the side on an even keel, keeping in my mind the inescapable fact that the side is facing a formidable foe in Crown.
“We’ve been training for a tough fight this weekend. I admit that Crown is one of the strongest teams in MCL, but in football nobody is perfect,” he told the Post.
“Every team has its strengths and weaknesses. We will look to exploit Crown’s weaknesses on the pitch, and we know our own strengths.
“We’ve not signed any new players, but unfortunately our captain Say Piseth, one of the best defenders in our squad, will miss the Crown game due to an injury to his shin sustained in the previous match against Naga,” added the coach.
Crown is seeking to regain its hold on the championship which slipped out of its grasp in 2012 after back-to-back triumphs
Bin Chantha Thierry’s recent foot injury will keep him out of the reckoning for much longer than first thought and Crown will have to do without Kim Jung-ho and Ngoy Srin, both of whom are suspended.
“The rest of the group should be ready. We also have, since the very first round of the season, our Brazilian Rafael [Oliviera] 100 per cent fit and the next days training will show if he is ready for some game time,” said Crown coach Sam Schweingruber.
“For this season, we are obviously trying to build up from the last season. We have an additional assistant coach John McGlynn on board as a real football expert and with a great tactical understanding of the game. So we believe that our team is obviously getting better.
“We also have a new goalkeeper and several new foreign players who help our team in training and games.”
Saturday’s opener will be a testy one for Kirivong Sok Sen Chey, who are seemingly climbing a greasy pole. Beaten 4-1 by Svay Rieng last time out, the visitors from Takeo will cross a buoyant Build Bright United for whom the past few weeks have gone very well.
Sunday’s fare at the Olympic Stadium offers a stirring duel between Ministry of National Defence and Boeung Ket Rubber Field.
While Boeung Ket is the obvious form horse, MND have the capacity to bowl a wrong one at any time, mostly when least fancied or expected.
In their current form, TriAsia should go out as favourites to down Western University in Sunday’s opening fixture.
Change of games and grass
The Football Federation of Cambodia announced yesterday a change in the fixture list for the second half of the MCL season to help accommodate a planned installation of artificial turf at the Olympic Stadium.
The redevelopment of the pitch, which has often been reduced to a quagmire during torrential downpours during rainy season games, is being partly funded by world-governing body FIFA, who will also provide technical support, according to an official FFC press release yesterday.
Construction work is expected to begin shortly after the July 27 conclusion of the league.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHENG SERYRITH
Saturday April 5
At Old Stadium
Asia Europe University v Albirex Niigata – 1:30pm
Svay Rieng v Naga Corp – 3:45pm
At Olympic Stadium
Kirivong Sok Sen Chey v Build Bright United – 3:30pm
National Police Commissary v Phnom Penh Crown – 6pm
Sunday April 6
At Olympic Stadium
TriAsia v Western University 3:30pm
Ministry of National Defence v Boeung Ket Rubber Field – 6pm