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Naga Corp win Super 4 final


In a complete reversal of regular-season standings, Naga Corp comes out on top of the playoffs with a 2-1 win against Khemara Keila after extra time on Saturday.

Photo by: Nick Sells (www.nicksellsphotography.com)
Naga Corp’s Tiet Chandarasokha (centre) lifts the Cambodian Premier League trophy as manager Michael Thachnen (left, white shirt) looks on after the team won the Super 4 final against Khemara Keila.

IT needed the drama of extra time at Olympic Stadium on Saturday for the Cambodian Premier League Super 4 Championship to provide Naga Corp with their second title in three years, and for team manager Michael Thachnen to complete a hat trick of wins as a player, coach and manager. In diminutive Nigerian striker Sunday Okonkwo, Thachnen has the key to unlock any defence, and so it proved, with the confident and elusive 22-year-old scoring both goals in extra time after a goalless ninety minutes.

Both teams fielded their strongest lineups, each side hosting three African players and a smattering of national team players. In the regular season, Khemara finished two points above Naga, in third place in the league table. Their league matches against each other, finished 2-2 in the first leg, and a 2-0 Khemara win in the return fixture.

Their semifinal successes over more fancied opposition had surprised many, and set up an intriguing championship final. The weather was good, the fans of each team were boisterous and good-spirited, and the game kicked off in front of the special guest Thong Khon, the minister of tourism and president of the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia.

It was Naga who looked the most likely to go ahead in the first half, with Okonkwo featuring strongly. Khemara’s Chan Dara managed a last-ditch tackle as Okonkwo drew back his foot and looked odds-on to score after leaving two defenders in his wake on 25 minutes.

A minute earlier, Khemara’s leggy striker Nelson Oladiji had failed to get his header on target when all alone in the six-yard box. Okonkwo again had Khemara nerves jangling as he got the faintest of touches to a Chin Chum cross, but the ball rolled agonisingly wide.

After the halftime interval, the hard play continued as both sides sought that all-important opening goal. Oladiji’s long distance header was tipped over the crossbar by Naga stopper Chaom Veasna early on.

Seconds later the Khemara defence was ripped open by Okonkwo, as he weaved his way past three defenders and laid the ball into the path of Yemi Oyewole, who fired into the side netting.

Khemara’s talismanic skipper Kuoch Sokumpheak had been largely anonymous until the 70th minute, when the ball landed at his feet and, with little backlift, he lashed a shot against the crossbar from a dozen yards out.

Naga lost their skipper Om Thavrak to injury a few minutes later and had to readjust their back line as the rest of the second half petered out, with tired legs evident on both sides.

Photo by: Nick Sells (www.nicksellsphotography.com)
Naga Corp’s Sunday Okonkwo (right) vies with Khemara Keila’s Chan Dara Saturday.

In the first period of extra time, and with the floodlights illuminating the final, it was Naga who drew first blood. With their corner kicks mounting – 15 compared to their opponents’ six – it was Okonkwo who stooped to head home at the far post after Meas Channa’s flag kick had been headed back across goal by Friday Nwakuna. As they celebrated, referee Tuy Vichheka flashed a red card in the direction of defender Tiet Chandarasokha for lifting his shirt over his head, and joy turned to bemusement from the match official’s pedantic reaction.

Naga, despite the numerical disadvantage, continued to dominate with their slick passing and tight organisation, and ended the first period with substitute Kim Chanbunrith rattling the crossbar with one of his trademark free kicks from 25 yards out.

Okonkwo effectively clinched the championship for Naga, when he profited from a misunderstanding between Khemara goalkeeper Mak Theara and his defender, Chan Dara, who left the ball for one another. The Naga striker accepted their gift and rolled the ball into an empty net on 114 minutes.

Celebrations on and off the pitch were cut short a couple of minutes before the end, when Khemara’s centre-half Joel Omoraka rifled in a blistering 30-yarder that set Naga nerves on edge for the closing stages of the match. However, they held on and went wild at the final whistle, lifting manager Michael Thachnen into the air and collecting their championship medals, the cup and a winner’s cheque for 40 million riels (US$9,650).

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