Phnom Penh Crown and their band of followers, or for that matter a sizeable chunk of the Cambodian footballing community, are in a celebratory mood after Bojan Hodak’s side made it to the next phase of the AFC President’s Cup alongside Kyrgyzstan champs Neftchi Kochkor-Ata. But as the Croatian coach guardedly declared after Crown’s thrilling 1-0 victory over Bangladesh outfit Abhani Limited on Monday, the team still had the unfinished business of topping Pool A to think about.
The stage is now set for a no holds barred contest at Olympic Stadium this afternoon between the two qualifiers. The kickoff time of 4pm will give slight comfort to Neftchi coach Alexander Krestinin, who blamed their 1:30pm start in scorching conditions against Sri Lankan club Don Bosco for a pedestrian 2-0 win.
“We know that Crown is a good side,” Krestinin told The Post through an interpreter. “There will be huge support for the team in the stands, but if we play to our strengths we certainly can make a match of it.”
The Crown camp have taken note to watch out for midfielder Marat Adzhiniazov and striker Pavel Pavlov, both of whom are expected to carve out openings and punch holes in the defence.
Uzbek import Pavlov has two goals to his credit from two games, while the long range missile Adzhiniazov fired against Abhani in their opening match on Saturday demonstrated his ability to score from anywhere.
Neftchi and Crown will join defending AFC President’s Cup champions Yadanarbon of Myanmar, Istiklol of Tajikistan, Taiwan Power Company of Taiwan and FC Balkan of Turkmenistan in the six-team finals of the competition to be played at a centralized venue yet to be determined. The teams will be divided into two groups of three teams each, with the top two teams from each group advancing to criss-cross semifinals.
A victorious end to the group stage today would be a welcome morale booster for Crown, who currently top the Metfone C-League table and will play their opening game in the 2011 Singapore Cup next month.
Abhani and Don Bosco, meanwhile, will go through the motions in their final Pool A game at 1:30pm in the blazing midday heat both have come to despise.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY UNG CHAMROEUN