In a nerve-wracking penalty shootout, holders Phnom Penh Crown touched off arch rivals NagaWorld 3-2 to retain the 2015 Metfone C League Championship at the Olympic Stadium on Saturday. The double-legged showdown had ended in a 3-3 deadlock on aggregate following Naga’s 3-1 win on the night that made light of the 0-2 first leg handicap.
It was yet another narrowly missed opportunity for first season coach Meas Channa following Naga’s loss to Svay Rieng in the Hun Sen Cup earlier in the year, while Crown coach Sam Schwinegrubber celebrated his second success in two years alongside the team’s sixth title.
The odds were seemingly stacked high against two-time champions Naga when they squared off against Crown under blazing lights with the two-goal deficit clearly adding to their worries. Yet, in a suprising second half come-back, Naga scored three goals, the last in the first minute of injury time, to Crown’s one, inevitably driving the game to 30 minutes of extra time. This produced plenty of drama at both ends but no goals.
Amid rising tension in both camps and in the stands, it was down to penalties. Little could anyone guess when Naga’s Fukasawa prepared to take the first kick that Crown’s teenage goalkeeper Keo Soksela would eventually play a mighty hand in deciding the fate of this year’s championship.
Anticipating Fukasawa’s move to perfection, Soksela saved the first to give Crown a distinct advantage quickly built upon by captain Bin Thierry. The next set of kicks brought another sensational twist. Kazuaki Ban got it right for Naga but Va Sokthorn drove over the cross-bar and it was back to where it had all begun.
Former Crown player Sokumpheak turned in a neat one to give Naga the lead for the first time, only to see Kok Boris do the same with absolute ease. It was former Crown player Kim Borey’s turn to keep the fight on for Naga, but his less than elegant attempt was easily stopped by Soksela.
Yet Crown could not immediately capitalise on this Naga misfortune since their own Odion Obadin found Samrat Seiha firmly in the way.
But the most shocking miss of all for Naga turned out to be one from their star of the season, Barry Lelouma. His firm shot was saved by Soksela before Yongsun Baek’s confident strike off the next for Crown settled the championship in the team’s favour.
The second leg came throbbing into life early in the second half when Naga took the lead through Sun Sovanarithy. But ironically it was the ruling of handball against Sovanarithy at the other end that led Crown to a penalty and neat conversion by Bin Thierry. Naga regained the lead within minutes when Kouch Sokumpheak slotted in Prak Chanratana’s headed cross.
As the regulation time approached, Crown suffered a setback when Baek was pulled up for handling the ball. Sokumpheak fired home the spot kick to keep the battle alive for Naga, at least until extra time, since Naga had drawn level on aggregate at 3-3, forcing Crown to win the war all over again.
In Friday’s third place play off, Boeung Ket Angkor defeated Cambodian Tiger FC 2-1 on the back of Rous Samoeun’s brace for a 6-4 aggregate win, having won the first leg 4-3. The Tigers’ only goal came from S. Virak.
Champions in 2012 and runners up in the next two seasons, Boeung Ket topped this season’s league phase but were ousted in the semifinals by Naga.
As the team head to next Sunday’s final in the Toyota Mekong Club Championship against Thai champs Burriram United in Bangkok, they also bagged the Fair Play Award on Saturday at end of the domestic season.
The team’s head coach Prak Sovanara was named the Coach of the Year while Chan Vathanaka, who scored 37 goals during the season, claimed the Golden Boot and was also voted the Most Valuable Player.