Stakes are high in tomorrow’s plum contest at the Olympic Stadium between Naga Corp and Boeung Ket Rubber Field, two teams on a hot trail to catch up with the freewheeling Metfone C-League leaders Phnom Penh Crown.
If Wednesday’s winning performances by Naga and Boeung Ket are any indication, both carry a lot of positives into this needle clash along with some serious anxieties to sort out too.
The importance of this meeting 15 weeks into the league season cannot be overemphasised. It is quite obvious that the sides hate to lose more than they love to win.
If Naga coach Prak Sovannara utilised his team’s trip to Singapore last week as part of a healing process to create oneness from a side that was tending to be individualistic, he got it partly right in that 3-1 win over Kirivong Sok Sen Chey on a rain-soaked pitch on Wednesday.
Still of great concern to the former national coach was a below par first half. He was quite happy with the end game in which his players, having left it late, rallied back in the last 20 minutes to take control after trailing by a goal all that time.
Naga have a grudging loss during the first half of the season to settle with Boeung Ket and unless the 2009 champions hit the straps hard enough and come up with formations that are effective, the Rubbermen may prove a tough bunch to contain.
Twice in the last few weeks, Boeung Ket have had to deal with own goal disasters, including the one midweek against Svay Rieng that piled so much pressure on the team. The 2012 champions got going past the hour mark and made up for the lost time to eventually secure an uplifting 2-1 victory.
The Boeung Ket camp clearly feel that the momentum is with the side, though the goalless draw against Police in the previous encounter still rankles.
Mutual respect is what both sides have for each other when it comes to professed strengths but at the same time a great rivalry plays out between these two sides whenever they share the pitch.
What follows this high profile meeting is a tussle for survival when Kirivong Sok Sen Chey and Western University face off.
With the sword of demotion hanging over their heads, Western with a win could suck in the visitors from Takeo to the drop zone fight. At the same time Kirivong, whose erratic form this season has no recent parallels, can at least feel safe for a while if they were to grab three points.
Away at the Old Stadium tomorrow, TriAsia will put Svay Rieng’s resolve to a serious test. It may need a blooming miracle for Svay Rieng to come up with a successful defence of their 2013 title triumph from the stage they are now in, but hope springs eternal and Svay Rieng are not yet ready to give up the chase.
Tomorrow’s second fixture at the Old Stadium features a contest between two mid-table teams vying for elevation – Ministry of National Defence and Asia Europe University.
On Sunday at the Olympic Stadium, league leaders Phnom Penh Crown will be looking for another three-point cushion when they meet Build Bright United, who pulled a rabbit out of their hat the last time the two met in the Hun Sen Cup quarter-finals.
Crown’s 5-0 drubbing of the University-backed side in the first round of the league should dispel any fears of another BBU flutter.
In the weekend’s concluding kick off, National Police Commissary, who did well to hold Boeung Ket to a goalless stalemate last week, may be looking for a quick kill when they meet Albirex Niigata.
The first foreign franchise to make Cambodia’s top tier have struggled through the season so far and have just one win and a draw to show from more than a dozen games.
Saturday June 7
At the Old Stadium
Tri Asia v Svay Rieng – 1:30pm
MND v AEU – 3:45pm
At the Olympic Stadium
Naga v Boeung Ket – 3:30pm
Kirivong v Western Uni – 6pm
Sunday June 8
BBU v PP Crown – 3:30pm
Police v Albirex Niigata – 6pm