The 2015 Metfone C League season opens at the Old Stadium today with former champions NagaWorld and Svay Rieng squaring off at 3:30pm in a repeat of their gladiatorial clash early this year for the Hun Sen Cup.
Enjoying a distinct home advantage, Svay Rieng got the measure of NagaWorld in a hard fought encounter to top the country’s only open club competition, but it is domestic league supremacy that both sides have their sights on.
NagaWorld have spent the last five seasons trying to match their 2009 success, while Svay Rieng, who won two years ago for the first time, were in the shadows for nearly a decade when formerly Preah Khan Reach.
Both sides have had reasonably good pre-season preparations on the back of some new additions to the side.
While Svay Rieng will be looking for last season’s top scorer Dzarma Bata to be the attacking linchpin, the emergence of Prak Mony Odom as reliable set-piece property will be a positive factor weighing in the side’s favour.
With two experienced craftsmen, Kouch Sokhumpeak, who led the National side in Cambodia’s World Cup qualifier quest against Singapore and Afghanistan earlier this month, and Kim Borey hopping over from title holders Crown to NagaWorld just before the start of the cup campaign, coach Meas Channa’s side presents a formidable look.
There are some exciting new imports to boost Channa’s confidence in landing the league title in his first attempt after narrowly missing on the Cup glory.
Defending champions Phnom Penh Crown have considerably strengthened their side and, by way of a big surprise to the rest, will unveil Keo Sopheng, their recent prize catch, against his former club Boeung Ket Angkor at Crown’s new home, the RSN Stadium, tomorrow.
Crown’s 2-1 victory over Boeung Ket in the final game of the season last year came after Sam Schweingruber’s men had already won the race for the title for the fifth time in league history.
As well heeled as the side appears to be, Crown will be eager to launch the defence of the title in the best way possible.
In keeping with the trends among other domestic heavyweights, The Rubbermen have also brought in foreign reinforcements to build a sound line-up around their star performers Chan Vathanaka and Khun Laboravy.
Having played second fiddle for the last two seasons, Boeung Ket would be keen to revisit their glory days of 2012.
The only new entrants to the arena are a team from the Cambodia Mines Action Center as replacements for Albirex Niigata Phnom Penh, who have chosen not to compete this year.
Following a change of ownership, TriAsia Phnom Penh has been renamed as the Cambodian Tiger FC.
The Football Federation of Cambodia has for the first time introduced home and away fixtures on a trial basis.
Not all the contestants have grounds of their own but the few who do have, like Crown, Western and Svay Rieng, will entertain visiting teams, while others will use regular venues like the Olympic Stadium and the Old Stadium.
The Federation has also decided to switch back to a four-team play-off system to determine the winner this season.
A departure from last season but hardly surprising since the FFC has chosen to alternately experiment with the two formats this decade to prolong interest.
Only three nations use the post league play-offs while the rest of the world unfailingly plumps for the conventional top-side-takes-it route.
Nagaworld v Svay Rieng, Old Stadium 3:30pm
Cambodian Mines Actions Center v Kirivong Sok Sen Chey, Tonle Bati Center III, 3:30pm
Asia Europe United v Build Bright United, Tonle Bati Center I, 3:30pm
Cambodian Tiger FC v Police, Western Stadium, 3:30pm
Phnom Penh Crown v Boeung Ket Angkor FC, RSN Stadium, 6pm
National Defence Ministry v Western University, Old Stadium, 3:30pm