Twice losing finalists in the Samdech Hun Sen Cup, current Cambodian Premier League champions Naga Corp are looking to finally triumph in this year’s event
Naga Corp captain Om Thavarak (right) celebrates his goal against Phouchung Neak in the semifinals of the 2009 Samdech Hun Sen Cup at Olympic Stadium.
Chhim Sambo is one of many experienced former national team players in the current Naga Corp lineup.
Twice Cup runners up and current Cambodian Premier League (CPL) champions Naga Corp go into this year’s Samdech Hun Sen Cup with high hopes of finally lifting the trophy. In the 2007 final, they lost 4-2 on penalties to Khemara Keila after a 1-1 stalemate in regulation time.
After being knocked out by eventual winners Phnom Penh Crown in the 2008 quarterfinals, Naga had a chance to redeem themselves in the 2009 finals against the same team. However, the side stuttered to a 1-0 loss to their fellow casino backed rivals in hugely disappointing match.
“We missed out twice to become [Cup] champions, so we don’t want such events happening again to us,” said Lam Tiny, team manager of Naga Corp. “We really need the victory, like we achieved in the 2009 CPL.”
Naga will face hosts Siem Reap Friday in group D before taking on Kampong Thom and Oddar Meanchey respectively at the Siem Reap provincial stadium. “No problem for us for the preliminary round,” asserted the manager. “I am not looking down on the rivals, but I believe in my boys, who have prepared well for the tournament.”
Assistant coach Nov Vuthy has been promoted temporarily to head coach, following the resignation of Michael Thachnen who led the club to their recent league title. According to Lam Tiny, Thachnen quit the club in November due to work commitments.
“Now we are focusing on the tournament,” said Lam Tiny. “It’s also a great test for Nov Vuthy. We will follow his activities and achievements as coach. If everything goes well, he will be officially appointed. But if his capacity is still limited, we will find a new coach.”
The manager added that many players in his team have experience in top level and international competitions and would continue to perform well despite the departure of their inspirational tactician.
“We’ve learned our weaknesses and strengths from the past, so I hope that everything will be okay for us in each stage” commented midfielder Meas Channa, Naga’s free kick specialist and former national team player.
As one of the top clubs in the Kingdom, Naga features many former national team stars in its squad, including Om Thavarak, Sun Sampratna, Chhim Sambo, Pich Sina, and Kim Chanbunrith, as well current U23 team captain Sun Sovannarith.
“All players of Naga are happy with the club, they don’t want to leave,” assured Lam Tiny. “And this year, former players Men Piseth and Bou Mesa returned.”
Some fans have criticised Naga Corp for fielding an aged lineup, but the manager said that most players are between 26 and 28 years old and still good enough to play. Youngsters are often given a chance, he added.
Since 2005, Naga have never finished out of the top four of the CPL. They claimed fourth in 2005, third in 2006, stormed to take the title in 2007 by ending up eight points ahead of runners-up Khemara Keila, and settled for third place in 2008. Last year, they beat Khemara Keila 2-1 in the Super 4 playoff final to be crowned CPL champions for the second time.
“We have good records in both cup and league, but our main mission is to win the title of the Cup tournament. And why not at the upcoming Cup? We will try our best to reach this goal,” expressed Lam Tiny, who played for Naga in the past.
Naga Corp are fortunate not to suffer from financial difficulties at the moment and they have comprehensive sponsorship from Naga World hotel and casino in Phnom Penh, where many of the players are also employed.
Photos by Nick Sells (www.nicksellsphotography.com)