This season’s Metfone C-League championship could well be decided on Saturday if the tear-away leaders Phnom Penh Crown grab all three points against a somewhat dispirited Naga Corp in their twilight fixture at the Olympic Stadium.
Hopelessly outpaced in the second half of the season, Naga suffered a midweek setback when the two-time champions were held to a goal-less draw by National Police Commissary.
While Naga’s professed strength has been consistently failing to show up in their performances, Crown have presented themselves as a well coordinated strike force throughout this campaign.
With a seven-point cushion in the league standings over nearest rivals Boeung Ket Rubber Field, Crown appear to be home and host when it comes to the title race, yet the side may deal with the next three rounds with utmost caution.
“We are close to receiving the rewards for our hard work over the last 20 months.” Crown coach Sam Schweingruber told the Post.
“Yes, we know that we are facing the strongest opponents of this year on all of our final three matches and will take preparation as seriously as we can and not be affected by the comfortable view on the table.
“If we approach our game the way we have recently, I am confident we can lift the title as expected by many of our fans. But it will certainly not be easy as each of our opponents will do everything possible to see us falter,” added the Swiss tactician.
Boeung Ket’s only chance of regaining the championship they last won in 2012 hinges on them winning their next three matches, the last of which against none other than Crown. But Boeung Ket also need Crown, the four-time champions, to stumble over their last three hurdles, a far-more unlikely prospect.
Interestingly Crown’s only defeat this season had been at the hands of Boeung Ket.
In their first round clash, Crown produced a late equaliser against Naga to share the spoils and the two teams have since struck different paths after this encounter.
Schweingruber, whose side have won, said they were “disappointed with the result” of their previous game with Naga.
“Hopefully, we can learn from that and find a way to overcome the best defence of the league – Naga have only conceded 13 goals so far. And we must show that we have the best attack – we have scored 52 goals,” said the coach.
Part of that proficiency upfront is due to the scoring prowess of Nigerian forward George Bisan, whose 19 goals this campaign has only just been bettered by Svay Rieng’s Dzarma Bata on 20.
“Obviously our foreign players have been important for us, just looking at George [Bisan]’s 19 goals, the many assists by Adriano [Pellegrino] and the defence organised around Tony [Odion Obadin],” said Schweingruber.
“Our Cambodian players have also developed very well, which has been acknowledged by the national team coach in selecting so many in his squad. In each position, we have options and players have to fight for a starting spot which creates a healthy competition.”
Defending champions Svay Rieng, who have been left to fight for minor honours following their patchy performances this season, face Hun Sen Cup runners-up Build Bright United in Saturday’s first fixture.
Svay Rieng pumped nine goals past a hapless Kirivong Sok Sen Chey on Wednesday, a victory that should jeeve up the camp for the battle with BBU, who are working hard to break into the top three bracket this season.
On Sunday, Boeung Ket take on Kirivong under the lights of the Olympic Stadium. The Rubbermen should assert themselves against a side that is heading towards relegation.
In the day’s first match, Western University are up against National Police.
Away at the Old Stadium on Saturday, Albirex Niigata square off against Ministry of National Defence while Asia Europe University meet TriAsia. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY DAN RILEY