A strong instinct to survive the drop has kicked in for Ministry of National Defence after their face-saving 3-2 win over Build Bright United at the end of April, just before the Metfone C-League was put on hold for Boeung Ket Rubber Field’s shot at the 2013 AFC President’s Cup Group C campaign.
The Army men had never been in such a plight before, second from the bottom of the standings. The first half of the season had been a near disaster, a string of five losses and three draws, and that after making the final of the 2013 Hun Sen Cup, which was grabbed by NagaCorp in a tense penalty shootout.
The second section of the 18-round league resumes tomorrow and the standout fixture in a card of five is a rematch of the Cup finalists at Olympic Stadium.
“We need to fight for survival,” were the ringing words from MND manager Op Sam An, putting the contest against Naga in its right perspective.
The Army men can now look back with some comfort at their 1-1 draw over Naga on January 16, though they were beaten to the Cup four weeks later.
However, optimism is seemingly running deep in the MND camp ahead of tomorrow’s 2pm clash. When the Post caught up with them, midfielder Pov Phearith and striker Ung Dara struck a confident note that the side can turn the tables on Naga.
Though the first stage went reasonably well for two-time champions Naga, with four wins, three draws and two defeats, coach Lim Noun, for one, strongly felt that the side should have performed a lot better.
Second-phase consolidation is what the Naga coach is looking for, but at the back of Lim Noun’s mind is the fact that they have managed to score just twice in two matches.
The 2009 champions are pinning their hopes of goals on foreign signings Ernest Ngeng and Anderson Zogbe, who are expected to work in tandem up front.
A strong Naga defence will hold the key to the side’s ability to contain a rugged MND frontline.
Defending champions Boeung Ket, who are making a bolt for it up front with nine straight wins, face a relatively easy task against trailers Senate Secretariat at Olympic Stadium from 2pm on Sunday.
The narrow loss to Palestinian side Hilal Al-Quds last week, which sealed Boeung Ket’s fate in the AFC President’s Cup, is not far from the players’ thoughts, but coach Prak Vuthy has made it abundantly clear to the team that the focus should now shift on winning the next set of games and eventually the title.
Boeung Ket coach Prak Vuthy and manager Be Makara are also well aware that the team should be in sound shape ahead of their Singapore Cup campaign at the end of this month.
The Cambodian champions will play Tanjong Pagar United at the Jalan Besar Stadium on May 31 at 7pm. A team of 18 players and five officials will fly out of Phnom Penh on May 29.
Over at Old Stadium tomorrow, Phnom Penh Crown, who are currently fifth in the standings, take on National Police at 3pm against the backdrop of that shocking defeat at the hands of Build Bright United.
Sunday’s first fixture at 2pm at Olympic Stadium pits Svay Rieng, formerly Preah Khan Reach, against Build Bright United. Then, at 4pm, Kirivong Sok Sen Chey, who are boldly staking a claim for one of the Super Four slots, meet Asia Euro University, who are performing far above expectations for a team that is in its first league season.
Now that MND are climbing out of the deep end, AEU, who are one point ahead of the Army men, could well be sucked into the dogfight if they lose ground.