Phnom Penh Crown’s Sos Souhana (L) sees his penalty saved by Ministryu of National Defence’s Sou Yaty during their Hun Sen Cup semi-final at Olympic Stadium on Friday, Feb. 08, 2013. Photograph: Sreng Meng Srun/Phnom Penh Post
Ministry of National Defence (MND) and Naga Corp booked their places in the final of the seventh Samdech Hun Sen Cup via nerve-racking penalty shootout victories in their semi-finals on Friday. Both sides had also come back from a goal down in regulation time.
MND managed to overcome two-time winners Phnom Penh Crown 5-2 in an unexpected result for the 2010 champions, while Naga Corp were initially unconvincing against provincial side Kirivong Sok Sen but ultimately prevailed 5-4 after spotkicks.
In the early kickoff at Olympic Stadium, Crown dominated the first half with some sublime one-touch passes and tiki-taka style football.
Just past the half-hour mark, a neat combination by Sos Souhana, Hong Pheng and Men Seyha tore through the midfield, leading to a cross by Souhana and a spectacular diving header from Khim Borey.
“I’m proud that at this point, the team showed on the field what we’d practised all week,” coach Sam Schweingruber told the Post.
The momentum was clearly with Crown, although the Army side applied pressure on keeper Yok Ak-Ary, mainly through well-struck corner kicks by Pum Tola.
Near the end of the half, Khim Borey was injured in a fair tackle from an MND defender and was forced to leave the game. According to Crown officials, the national-team striker has a hamstring injury that will keep him on the sidelines for a minimum of two weeks.
Crown kept their stranglehold of the midpark in the opening exchanges of the second session, but defensive frailties, coupled with the lack of a true goal-getter up front, allowed the Army side to claw their way back into the match.
“Without Borey we played toothless. We had no way to pressure the opponent in their half,” Schwein-gruber said.
A string of vicious, in-swinging flag kicks resulted in significant confusion in the Crown box, which Keo Vannak capitalised on to poke the ball home and draw things level.
With time running out, MND nearly snatched victory with a heart-stopping moment when the ball crept agonisingly along the line after being hit under the body of Yok Ak-Ary. But no Army player was at hand for the tap-in, and the game went into extra time.
An eventless pair of 15-minute periods meant the tie would be decided on penalties, with Crown’s first choice keeper Samrith Seiha, who had been benched due to injury, brought on in the final second to line up against fellow national-team keeper Sou Yaty for the shootout.
Seiha almost made an immediate impact, but the deflection off his legs in the first spotkick span across the line and into the far corner.
MND proved ruthlessly efficient from 11 metres, while Crown’s Cambodian-French defensive midfielder Boris Kok saw his penalty effort sail over the bar and striker Sos Souhana scuffed his shot for an easy parry away by Sou Yaty.
All that was left was for the Army team’s Up Kamul to step up and seal victory with their fourth successive penalty conversion.
In a post-match interview with reporters, MND coach Op Sam Ath admitted the loss of Khim Borey had proved a turning point in the fixture.
“I admire the strong team Phnom Penh Crown has. In particular, when their trio of Borey, Souhana and [Bin] Thierry play together, they are very hard to beat.
“But when Borey had to leave the game because of injury, this changed the balance and our chance for a comeback was there,” the coach said.
“We are glad that we are in the final, and we definitely feel confident that we can win the tournament.”
Schweingruber, meanwhile, voiced his disappointment at Crown’s performance.
“The reason we didn’t make it into the finals is simple: we aren’t good enough. We didn’t play well offensively and had many problems defending effectively, but I don’t blame the team as a whole, as they fought and gave everything,” he said.
“What really angers me is the goal that was bagged against us could have been easily avoided. It was the need of one specific player to play for his name instead of the team and tried to nutmeg an opponent, who then got hold of the ball and initiated the goal that came after the corner kick.
“I don’t need players on my team that worry more about their individual performance than the team’s. I don’t want to over-react now, but this incident may have an aftermath.”
MND’s opponents for the final, which will be played next Saturday at Olympic Stadium, was established under a floodlit pitch as Friday’s second semi-final also went the distance.
The heavily favoured Naga Corp took on Takeo-based Kirivong, with the latter side looking liveliest during the early phases.
However, it took until the beginning of the second half for Kirivong to finally grab a well-deserved lead as Ek Vannak converted an easy goal initiated by Sok Pheng, who had drawn Naga keeper Phorn Rathna off his line.
A severely depleted crowd compared to the earlier match watched as Kirivong started to take their foot off the gas and attempt to coast to the win on top of their slender advantage.
Naga were given more room to display their skills as they began to throw everything into attack. Twenty minutes before the end, Naga’s best player on the field, Teab Vathanak, lauched a shot from 15 metres out that led to a chaotic scene in front of the posts. Kirivong failed to get control of the ball and it landed at the feet of Chhim Sambor, who bashed in the equaliser.
Despite some clear-cut chances for Vathanak and Sambor, the teams remained deadlocked at 1-1 through extra time to set the stage for yet another drama-filled shootout.
A series of fine penalties by both teams, with just one shot missed each, had the scores at 5-4 in favour of Naga heading towards sudden death. However, with the remaining spotkick, the nerves got the better of Kirivong’s Nhim Sovannara as he blasted it over.
Naga players on the field and fans in the stands burst into emotional celebration as they welcomed their fourth berth in the Cup showdown from seven campaigns.
The title, it seems, may not remain elusive for the casino-backed side.
Crown and Kirivong will contest the third-place playoff at Olympic Stadium on Thursday.