PHNOM Penh Crown could not repeat their success of last year in the preliminary round of the 2010 RHB Singapore Cup. The team was beaten 2-1 Friday by S-League’s French expatriate side Etoile FC at the Jalan Besar stadium.
All four of Crown’s Nigerian players were in the starting line-up, oen more than usually allowed in the domestic league. Indeed, Crown’s Sani Saidu had to be alert from the off, as he cleared the immediate threat from marauding Etoile defender Karim Boudjema.
At the other end, Crown hotshot Uche Prince Justine latched onto a throughball from compatriate Olisa Onyemerea, but his quick shot was saved by Etoile keeper Brice Morandini. Crown defenders Tieng Tiny, Chan Dara and Saidu Sani were kept working hard to deny the Etoile attack.
Their diligence paid off as Crown took the lead on 35 minutes through a spot kick from young striker Keo Sokngorn after Morandini had brought down Justine in the area. Sokngorn competently sent the French keeper the wrong way to put the Cambodians ahead. Justine then had a chance to double Crown’s advantage five minutes later, but saw his header fall the wrong side of the post.
Two minutes into stoppage time in the first half Etoile managed to find the equaliser, with the towering 1.90-metre forward Federic Mendy rising above to guide his header into the Crown goal from a Julien Deletraz free kick.
A downpour that started during the break continued into the second half as the artificial pitch caused problems for Crown, with many players having never experienced playing on such a surface. The French side held the majority of possession as their opposition tired, and in the 55th minute, Senegalese striker Mendy found the net again after receiving a cross from Kevin Yann.
Etoile were creating many chances in the latter stages, with Mendy and Deletraz looking dangerous, but 18-year-old Crown stopper Peng Bunchhay and his defence stood firm.
Barely two minutes on the field, Crown substitute Sok Pheng was gifted a chance to go clear on goal, but was well interrupted by defender Loic Leclerc. And just moments before the final whistle, Justine had one last opportunity to tie things up from a free kick, but despite clearing the wall, his powerful strike flew past the upright.
“We did well in the first half, but we were found it difficult in the second half,” expressed Crown coach Apisit Im Amphai in a post match interview.
“However, I’m happy with the result of losing only 2-1 to a strong team like Etoile FC.” According to the coach, Federic Mendy’s height was the factor that his team found hardest to contend with.
Crown manager Be Makara echoed his colleague comments on their height disadvantage, noting that their tallest player was Tieng Tiny at 1.77 metres.
Etoile FC coach Patrick Vallee was satisfied with his team’s performance. “It’s OK because we won, even if could score more than that,” he remarked, while acknowledging the strong efforts of their Cambodian opponents.