Kuoch Sokumpheak grabs a last-gasp winner to gain instant hero status in Saturday night’s BIDC Cup final against Vietnamese club Hoang Anh Gia Lai
THIRTY thousand Cambodian football fans rose as one Saturday night at Olympic Stadium as Cambodia’s talismanic striker Kuoch Sokumpheak sent his downward header into the net and restored the Cambodian U23’s lead with just three minutes of the BIDC Cup final remaining. It was nail-biting stuff as anxious spectators saw out those last few minutes, and a few more added on, before they could rise again to celebrate their country’s success in a euphoric conclusion to the weeklong tournament.
Cambodia head coach Scott O’Donell fielded a second-string lineup against V-League new boys Vissai Ninh Binh in their final BIDC Cup group match Thursday, which the Vietnamese outfit won 1-0. However, the Australian tactician selected his strongest squad to face Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL) – who are expected to challenge for the V-League’s top honours next season – and the match kicked off under floodlights in front of a massive crowd eager with anticipation.
They didn’t have to wait long before Cambodia registered their intent. With 12 minutes on the clock, Kuoch Sokumpheak split the HAGL defence with a perfect through ball to his striking partner Chan Chhaya. Taking the pass in his stride, Chhaya unleashed a fierce drive inside the near post, and Cambodia were in front.
Sokumpheak himself went close a couple of times before Cambodia forged further ahead. Khim Borey, playing in a deeper midfield role than normal, sent over an inch-perfect corner kick, and Chan Chhaya rose unchallenged in the 6-yard box to head home his second goal in the 36th minute. The home crowd was enthralled, and Mexican waves began in earnest.
HAGL came back strongly, and made it clear they weren’t ready to give up when their Brazilian hitman Rodrigo Toledo evaded two tackles to blast his shot against the underside of the cross bar. Toledo claimed the ball had crossed the line, but the referee waved away his appeals and blew for halftime.
With the introduction of Doan Van Sakda after the interval, HAGL upped the tempo and pressed from the restart. It was Sakda’s corner nine minutes later that fell to Le Van Truong on the edge of the area, and his unstoppable drive gave Samrith Seiha in the Cambodian goal no chance as it arrowed into the net.
Just four minutes later, Cambodia’s lead had disappeared. Defender Pheak Rady dwelt too long on the ball close to his goal and lost possession to Tran Minh Thien, who made him pay a heavy price with a neat finish inside the near post.
The match swung from end to end, with Samrith Seiha’s handling an important factor in keeping Cambodia in the hunt, as was a last-ditch redemption tackle from Pheak Rady. Sokumpheak and substitute Prak Monyoudom had chances at the other end, and with the final whistle looming, extra time looked a certainty. That was until Sokumpheak’s late intervention.
Lay Raksmey had replaced Pheak Rady in the 80th minute, and the substitute delivered a sublime cross to the far post, where Sokumpheak was all alone to direct a header into the corner of the net to cue wild celebrations on and off the pitch. It was a memorable finish to an exciting game that earned the Cambodian team US$20,000 in prize money from sponsors Bank for Investment and Development of Cambodia (BIDC), and also a new motorbike for each team member.
For coach O’Donell it was a fitting result. “I am very happy to win the tournament,” he remarked. “It’s great. Look at the crowd. Everyone is very happy, and it’s great for the Cambodian team to get some success on home soil. The fans have been excellent in the way they’ve supported the boys tonight and throughout the competition.
“This has been a very important part of our preparations for the SEA Games. The whole tournament was aimed at that. Four games in six days is what we’ll be up against in the SEA Games.
“We made a couple of changes.... We got a good cross in and a good finish from Sokumpheak. I was very happy for Chhaya scoring his two goals. He works his backside off, and I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves.... He’s a good boy, he works hard, and he deserved it.”
Cambodia’s Samrith Seiha was voted the tournament’s best goalkeeper, Laos captain Kitsada was named the cup’s most valuable player and Evaldo Goncaves of HAGL collected the top scorer award. Each received $1,000 in prize money from the sponsors. In the third-place playoff earlier Saturday, Vissai Ninh Binh beat the Laos U23 side with a solitary goal from Dinh Hoang Max to collect the $5,000 reward.