Photo by: Sreng Meng Srun
Phnom Penh Crown's Chan Dara challenges Naga Corp's Sun Sovanrithy during their Metfone C-League Super 4 playoff semifinal yesterday at Olympic Stadium.
Naga Corp 2 Phnom Penh Crown 4
A spectacular second-half surge by league toppers Naga Corp was inadequate to contain lion-hearted Phnom Penh Crown as mercurial striker Uche Prince Justine’s regal touch helped his side settle an old score for an emphatic 4-2 victory in their Super 4 playoff at Olympic Stadium yesterday. The rip-roaring Crown win, watched by a huge turnout, set up a final showdown with Preah Khan Reach for seasonal honours this Saturday.
For the second year running, the league’s fourth place finishers overcame the top team in the playoff semifinals, with the roles reversed last time out for the casino backed sides.
There were also shades of their Samdech Hun Sen Cup semifinal earlier this year, when Crown registered a first half scoreline of 3-0, only for Naga to storm back to level pegging in the second period but then lose on penalties. This time out, Crown took another 3-0 cushion into the break, before Naga staged another comeback with two quick goals as another thrilling finish looked on the cards. But two minutes before the final hooter, Crown midfielder Sun Sopanha settled the argument once and for all with the screamer of a free kick into the top corner to echo his thunderous first half strike.
Crown manager Be Makara expressed his satisfaction with the result. “I was very confident, my team was very confident and our second round victory acted as a spur,” he said. “We saw it coming.”
Naga coach Prak Sovanara, meanwhile, took a more philosophical tone. “We let Crown too far ahead in the first half. Our second half display was good, but as it turned out not good enough.”
Crown opted for a one-man strike force consisting of Uche Prince Justine, resting the towering Olisa Onyemerea to give preference to strengthening the midfield.
After a couple of initial thrusts had gone to the Naga account, the tide turned the other way with Crown's breakaways having far more sting and depth. A long haul in the box by midfielder Srey Veasana’s seemed a safe collection for Naga keeper Kha Kheara, until Justine’s crept in to plant a firm header for the opener.
Minutes later, a piercing run by Justine was rashly curtailed by one of the Naga defenders, and the resultant free kick from the edge of the area was just the kind that Sun Sopanha thrives upon. His kick was duly whipped over the wall and nestled in the top corner.
Having scored the first and then created the next, it was then Justine's turn to assist for the third. His delightful on the run pass to the fast moving Sok Pheng set him up a fierce drive that went between the goalkeeper’s legs.
However, victory against Naga should never be taken for granted, and within minutes of the restart, Yemi Oyewole had pulled one back. The Nigerian midfielder was the tallest man in the bunch to deal with a dipping corner kick to offer a cool headed finish.
Crown defenders Thul Sothea and Tieng Tany then produced a costly intervention on Teab Vatanak, who was awarded a penalty after being sent crashing to the turf. Sun Sovanarithy banged the spotkick home to reduce the margin to 3-2.
Crown stopper Peng Bunchhay came up with the save of the match when he tipped over Meas Channa's cheeky chip. Then, with time nearly up, Crown netted their fourth through the sublime Sun Sopanha to put the result beyond doubt. Crown now wait for their potential coronation next Saturday, while Naga will face BBU Friday for third place.