Local team Ranger FC beat Sihanoukville’s Life University in 6-3 thriller while Phnom Penh-based Naga Corp won 2-0 against resilient Koh Kong province
Ranger FC captain Kouch Sokumpheak (left) directs a header goalwards Saturday during the Samdech Hun Sen Cup last 16 knockout stage match against Life University.
- Build Bright Utd v Phnom Penh Crown
Saturday February 28 – 2:00pm
- Preah Khan Reach v Post-Tel Club
Saturday February 28 – 4:15pm
- Phouchung Neak v National Defence Ministry
Saturday March 7 – 2:00pm
- Ranger FC v Naga Corp
Saturday March 7 – 4:15pm
THE last 16 knockout stage of the Samdech Hun Sen Cup 2009 ended on Saturday at Olympic Stadium, setting up a mouth-watering quarterfinal fixture. The 2007 Cup champions Ranger FC (formally known as Khemara) saw off the challenge from Sihanoukville's Life University (LU) team in a thrilling 6-3 goalfest while 2007 runners-up Naga Corp progressed in the competition thanks to a 2-0 win over Koh Kong province.
In the first game, Ranger FC applied early pressure to their coastal opponents with two goals from team captain and Cambodian national squad star forward Kouch Sokumpheak. The first came courtesy of a simple rebound knock-in from a Sok Phalodam shot off the post and the second after poor marking allowed a well taken free header.
Ranger kept up the assault, creating numerous chances including a shot cleared off the line.
LU were on the verge of capitulation following a suicidal clearance from keeper Leung Odam played straight to Kouch Sokumpheak who duly completed his hattrick with a composed finish to give his side a three-goal advantage. The crowd were stunned into silence, allowing the chirping bat chorus from the stadium roof to echo around the stand.
Ranger looked completely comfortable with slick passing in midfield, good movement off the ball and great vision to pick out wide players with long balls. Their only weakness was a lack of concentration in the area which lead to many chances going to waste.
LU needed to address their weak start, and screams of encouragement and drum banging from a sizeable group of travelling LU students lifted the side to press deeper into Ranger territory. Sure enough, they broke the seemingly inpenetrable Ranger defence with a precise through ball and competant finish by Eam Sarath, from a tight angle, after he was pushed wide during his initial shot which rebounded off Ranger keeper Mak Theara.
A half-time cheerleading performance from the bright yellow clad, pompom swirling university students attempted to win over the crowd for the underdogs LU, who emerged from the interval with renewed determination. The first-half dominance from Ranger was no longer evident, and the teams were brought to within a single goal when a defensive error allowed Phany Chamrouen to collect the ball outside the box, turn his man and delightfully chip the Ranger keeper.
Ranger were startled into action, coming straight back up the pitch to score a simple tap in for Kouch Sokumpheak to maintain Ranger's two goal cushion.
Scorching playing conditions was visibly taking its toll on the players, the pace dropping to a jog. Ranger easily soaked up the LU attacks with their tight man-to-man defence. Feeble tracking back by LU allowed Ranger easy passage through the midfield to set up a string of good chances. LU lacked the precision of Ranger's passing and were put on the back foot for the majority of the half.
What promised to be the usual anticlimatic last quarter of the game suddenly took a dramatic shift. A painfully close effort by Ranger's Ty Bunvichet that careered off the post was swiflty transferred to the opposite end, where Phany Chamrouen once again made the scoreline interesting with a fine first touch and slice off the side of his boot to steer the ball past Ranger keeper. The goal sparked life into the LU supporters, who chanted "One more, LU! One More, LU!".
Ranger responded strongly with Kouch Sokumpheak receiving a blatant professional foul just outside the box from the LU keeper to prevent him from scoring. The keeper was lucky to be shown just the yellow card from the leniant referee - a textbook red in any European fixture.
LU had clear-cut chances to draw level with Eam Sarath squandering two one-on-ones with Mak Theara in close succession.
Comical chants of "Fighting, LU!" and "Good job, LU!" couldn't deny the fact that Rangers were the classier outfit, skipping challenges and exhibiting intelligent passing from defence to attack. Their continued pressure eventually paid dividends with Samuth Dalin latching onto a throughball to stroke home Ranger's fifth and then Kouch Sokumpheak staking his claim for the competition's golden boot award with his fifth of the game in the dying minutes to put the tie beyond reproach.
After the game, man of the match - and who else could it be - Kouch Sokumpheak said he felt delighted to score so many, adding that he will try even harder in the next round. However, he noted the three goals conceeded were a result of his "careless team looking down on their opponents". Kouch Sokumpheak offered fans some mystery in the build up to the quarterfinal in two weeks time. "I think for the next game I will try to practice more and find a new technique," he said. "But I am not sure what king of technique I will use."
Naga Corp take on Koh Kong
The later kickoff slot saw Naga Corp take on the provincial might of Koh Kong. In probably the closest of the games played so far in the Cup, Naga Corp's clever passes and accurate long balls couldn't register a convincing scoreline but nevetherless, the local team came out victorious.
Naga Corp should have taken the lead in the opening minutes when an awarded penalty was smartly palmed away by Koh Kong keeper Seng Chanty.
Koh Kong's tactics seemed too obvious with defensive powerhouse Alex Ikeduba smashing huge route-one clearances up the middle to fellow African William Olawace, who couldn't match his size advantage over Naga defence with skill, looking clumsy and uninspired upfront.
Naga Corp made many promising advances into the Koh Kong half, finding wide players superbly in acres of space, only to see the forwards over complicate matters with too many passes inside the box.
Chances created by Naga Corp mounted and a goal was sure to come. A long penetrating ball from Chhum Sambo was met with a deft first touch from Sun Sovannarith who sprinted past the last defender to flick the ball off the outside of his boot, beating the flailing Seng Chanty.
Koh Kong's only real chance of the match came in the 35th minute, when a thunderous free kick by Ikeduba from 25 metres out forced the keeper to parry to Leng Makara, whose attempt at the open goal from an acute angle was denied by the upright.
The second half mirrored the first in that an early penalty was awarded and subsequently saved by Seng Chanty. The crowd, craving cup drama, urged Koh Kong to equalise, but the provincial side could only provide the game's moment of humour when Seung Moniroath cynically tripped Naga Corp's Chek Sokhom infront of the mainstand. The Koh Kong player, praying for clemency from the referee, received a deserved yellow.
Just when Koh Kong were showing promise, disaster struck when one of the many telling crosses from right winger Meas Channa came off the back of the head of hapless Ikeduba to wrong foot the KK keeper, the ball dropping limply into the empty net.
Man of the match: double penalty saving machine Seng Chanty.
Naga Corp will face Ranger FC on March 3 in the quaterfinals in a rematch of the 2007 final, which Ranger (then called Khemara) won 4-2 on penalties.
After the game, Naga coach Michael Thachnan praised the heroics of the opposition keeper but noted that his side had "room to improve".
"We will definitely focus on how to score more goals," he said. "We used a lot of outside to inside attack, that's our strategy."
On the quarterfinal matchup against familiar foe Ranger FC, the Naga manager said: "We know what we have to improve for the next game ... I think we have a good chance."
Additional reporting by May Titthara
Photo by Nick Sells (www.nicksellsphotography.com)