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Opening day Cup tie thrillers

Build Bright United beat Kirivong Sok Sen Chey on penalties, Phnom Penh Crown reign supreme over Prek Pra Keila in first knockout stage of Hun Sen Cup 2009

Photo by: Dan Riley

Build Bright United’s Chan Pichchealy swings a free kick into the danger area during the first knockout stage match of the 2009 Samdech Hun Sen Cup Saturday at Olympic Stadium, Phnom Penh.

Football fans attending the first of a series of knockout stage matches Saturday in the Samdech Hun Sen Cup 2009 at Olympic stadium were treated to a sensational comeback from last year's third-place finishers, Build Bright United (BBU) against Kirivong Sok Sen Chey.

BBU overcame a two-goal deficit from the first half, equalising with just seconds remaining in regulation time, to progress to the quarterfinals of the competition thanks to perfection in the penalty shootout following extra-time.

Phnom Penh Mayor Kep Chuktema and Football Federation of Cambodia President Sao Sokha presided over the opening ceremony, which somewhat resembled an Olympic Games opener, with all 16 teams involved dressed in team colours and lined up on the pitch behind placards depicting their names. After a short speech from Kep Chuktema, the teams were officially welcomed into the tournament, and each received a gift of a bag of new footballs from the attending dignitaries. A live band got the crowd clapping along before a Rocky-style fanfare signified the arrival of the first two teams to play.

Kirivong Sok Sen Chey (KSC) couldn't have started better with a third-minute, 30-yard stunner from their Nigerian striker, Julius Ononiwu. Picking up the ball wide out on the left of the pitch, Ononiwu caught BBU goalkeeper Hem Simay off his line with an expertly judged curling shot into the top right corner from distance.

The following 20 minutes saw both teams make good chances, with Huot Seiha from BBU unlucky to see his effort from outside the area career off the upright. BBU appeared to have the lion's share of possession, but it was Ononiwu again who found the back of the net, latching onto a fine cross from Him Salam to poke the ball past Hem Samay in the 30th minute.

Undaunted by the scoreline, BBU increased the pressure and created numerous chances. Sem Bonny was pushed wide after rounding KSC keeper Kum Makara, but couldn't pick out fellow teammates and saw his shot fail to trouble the goalline defenders.

BBU coach So Sam Aun made a tactical change in the 39th minute by replacing striker Sylvester Namdi with fellow Nigerian Zile Seidu. Seidu's defensive qualities helped  neutralise the threat from KSC's Ononwidu, who was looking ominous to complete his hat-trick.

Photo by: Dan Riley

Build Bright United bench celebrate the last gasp equaliser.

BBU's resilience paid off just before half-time with Brum Putsethy profiting from a goalkeeping error to bring the score to 2-1. Indeed, Olisaemeka Onyemerala could've brought BBU level in the half if not for a great save from the KSC keeper.

Both teams began the second half brightly with KSC's Mom Sophal missing the target from a close range. BBU struggled to capitalise on their dominance of possession, squandering many chances. KSC defender Samuel Oseika was having a great day composing the KSC defense until the dying seconds of the half when BBU forward Sem Bonny made good on his earlier wasted chances by tapping the equalizer home from close quarters to send the game into extra time. The late goal - seconds before the end of regulation time - sparked wide celebrations from the players and bench who were probably thinking it just wasn't to be their day.

A tense 30 minutes of extra time ensued, with both teams failing to find a winner, taking the game into a dreaded penalty shootout.

The first three players of both teams successfully dispatched their spotkicks with the crowd observing an eerie silence before each strike to add to the tension. The pressure finally succumbed KSC's Tuon Phirom, who saw his shot saved by BBU keeper Hem Simay. With the two following penalties scored, it was left to BBU's Zili Seidu to secure the win. The towering African failed to disappoint, sending Kum Makara the wrong way to take his team through to the quarterfinals. KSC looked on dejected from the half way line as a sideline bundle of BBU players and coaches celebrated the victory.

BBU head coach So Sam Aun - a former Cambodian national player of 15 years - told the Post after the game that he knew his players could win because his team was comprised of "good players that worked hard to support each other".

He went on to say that "Today, my team played very good but missed a lot of chances", adding that he had strong belief in his team to progress far in the competition. "My team work hard, train hard and play well, so I know we can win easily," he said. "[After today], I know we can do it."

The game was clearly heavily influenced by the African players and So Sam Aun was quick to praise their involvement. "My team has five African players and all have a good understanding with the Cambodian players," he said. "They seem happy to come to play here, work with the Cambodians and gain an understanding of the Khmer culture.

"They play at a high standard and their physicality is superior to most Cambodians. However, their skill is not necessarily better than the locals."

When asked which team he most admires in international football, the coach said he liked Argentina the most.

Zili Seidu, scorer of the winning penalty for BBU, told the Post by telephone Sunday that he had been playing in Cambodia for about a year after playing in his native Nigeria for a team called Zemfere United. Seidu was delighted to score the decider, adding that the team had clearly benefited from a lot of training-ground penalty practice. Seidu said he was chosen to take the final penalty because the squad "believed in me to score every time". When questioned about which team he feared most in the competition, he said simply "I'm not scared of any Cambodia team".

Fellow Nigerian Julius Ononiwu, the scorer of both of KSC's first half goals, said after the game his side were merely the victims of "hard luck".

In the second match of the day, Phnom Penh Crown (PPC) faced Prek Pra Keila (PPK). PPC completed a 7-0 demolition of PPK in a result that mirrored the scoreline of PPC's group stage win over CMAC on January 11. First-half goals came from Nuth Sinuon, Lor Pech Seila and a backheeled exhibition strike from Sun Sophanha. The second half saw Nuth Sinuon and Sun Sophanha pick up a second goal each, and goals from Chan Rithy and Hong Rathana brought the tally to seven.

Build Bright United and Phnom Penh Crown will face each other in the quarterfinals on Saturday, February 28, at 2pm in the Olympic Stadium.

Football Federation of Cambodia press officer Tep Phany said that an estimated 7,000 people turned up to watch the two games at Olympic stadium on Saturday, adding that the teams that played were well known and popular but that other matches may be less well attended. However, Tep Phany said he hoped that large crowds would be attracted by the free admission to all fixtures of the competition.

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