Boeung Ket Rubber Field have recorded a unique achievement in domestic football, the likes of which will be hard to emulate. Floated less than three years ago as a “fun team” by the eponymous Kampong Cham plantation, Boeung Ket became the first provincial club to win the Metfone C-League title and the only one to do so in its debut season.
Boeung Ket’s sensational achievement came at Olympic Stadium on a rain-drenched Saturday, after the side took two-time former champions Naga Corp by their horns in a stoic 3-1 victory.
Two rapid-fire goals by Keo Sokgnorn early in the first half set Boeung Ket on course and the mercurial Julius Oiboh, who was pulled out of his base in Thailand and drafted in for the two crucial Super 4 playoff matches, delivered the third goal two minutes after the restart.
Keo Sokgnorn was credited with the first goal in the 13th minute for getting a fine touch to a ball that was headed into his own net by Naga defender Nieng Chenla off a set piece situation. But the second goal by the hard working forward four minutes later was all his own creation; a neat slip into the box and a deft finish.
Oiboh, who won the Golden Boot last year playing for Naga, was clearly the thorn in the side of his former employers. He was a constant threat, stirring, scattering and stretching the Naga back line.
His goal two minutes into the second half was a real beaut, working his way past two defenders and slotting the ball in with absolute ease. Minutes later, the Nigerian nearly pulled off an encore, but this time his chip was a touch wide.
Despite losing San Dalin to a rather dubious red card decision 25 minutes into the first half for his sliding tackle against San Narith, Boeung Ket stoutly stood their ground and defended their lead in the face of some fierce Naga counters. Boeung Ket goalkeeper Peng Bunchhay was at his brilliant best, breaking up several promising Naga moves.
Naga’s leading scorer throughout the season, Choun Chum, pulled one back in the dying seconds of the game, effectively bolting the stable door after the horse had fled.
The 2007 and 2009 winners were distinctly unlucky on the day as they missed out on at least half a dozen gilt-edged chances during the game. It was as if the ball was refusing to roll their way.
Either their finishing would let them down or an alert Boeung Ket defence would deny them their due. Even the woodwork seemingly plotted against Naga on more than one occasion.
The only bright note for Naga on an otherwise depressing afternoon was the side getting the Fair Play Award and a cheque for four million riel (US$986). It was a cruel twist of fate for Naga, who had topped the league table after an 18-round regular season but ended up losing the title decider.
“It was a very hard campaign. I am happy we won the title,” Boeung Ket manager Be Makara told the Post.
“It was great team spirit which has helped us. We had to make a strategic decision on our best scorer this season, Nwakuna Friday, taking the field today. He made way for Julius Oiboh.
“At one point we thought of midfielder Momoh Sumaila being replaced by Julius. But we couldn’t afford to take that chance against a strong Naga midfield. So Nwakuna Friday had to be sacrificed to retain team balance.”
Be Makara, who coached Phnom Penh Crown to two league and two Hun Sen Cup titles, revealed how the Kampong Cham side blossomed from an amateur team set up for plantation staff. “The owners have been very generous and supportive in team expansion,” added the manager.
Meanwhile, a visibly disappointed Naga coach Prak Sovanara put it all down to missed chances. “They turned their chances into goals. We couldn’t,” he said.
Apart from writing a glorious chapter of their own in domestic football history, Boeung Ket also swept the individual awards. Peng Bunchhay was deemed the best goalkeeper for the second consecutive campaign while Keo Sokgnorn was named the best player. They collected one and two million riel respectively in prize money.
Nwakuna Friday, despite missing both the semifinal against PKR and the final against Naga, emerged as the 2012 Metfone C-League’s leading scorer with 20 goals ahead of Police striker Oladiji Olatunde and Naga’s Choun Chum. The Golden Boot trophy was accompanied by an oversized cheque for two million riel.
Boeung Ket coach Prak Vuthy also pocketed two million riel for his best coach award. The referee team of Thong Chanketya, Choup Veasna, Cheng Chandara and Choup Visal was named as best, and will share four million riel.
In addition to a glittering trophy and individual medals, Boeung Ket picked up cash windfall of 58 million riel. Runners-up Naga took home 48 million riel and the third placed Preah Khan Reach got 36 million riel.
To contact the reporter on this story: H S Manjunath at [email protected]