Beaten twice by Phnom Penh Crown in the Metfone C League league phase, NagaWorld will be hoping to reverse that trend when the sides clash in the first leg of the championship final at the Olympic Stadium on Sunday.
Crown towered over Cambodian Tiger FC in the semifinals, while Naga, despite losing the second leg, shut out League toppers Boueng Ket 4-3 on aggregate.
In his first season as Naga coach, Meas Channa has a chance to make up for the Hun Sen Cup final loss to Svay Rieng earlier this year and bring back to the club the league glory he was part of as a player back in 2009.
But as he so candidly admits, the job of overpowering a strong side like Crown had been made that much harder by the fact that his side have lost to them twice this season.
Naga will be drawing some comfort from the fact that the second meeting this season between the two sides was a close affair with just one goal separating them.
The key to Naga’s success, Channa said, will be in producing a good team effort in containing Crown’s well-known goal-scoring potential and making their attacks count on the break.
Crown coach Sam Schweingruber recognised this: “We know a few of their players have outstanding qualities, particularly striker Barry Lelouma. [He is] direct, good with the ball and has a dangerous left foot. Defensively, they’re organised well, very compact and don’t give away lots of chances. So for us to score will be difficult.’
“It’s a question of how much risk we take to score goals, without conceding at the other end. It will depend on the form of our key players, some returning from national-team duty, to see what our starting line-up will look like, and how we approach the game.’’
“It looks likely we will have everyone available. We hope Sokpheng will be okay after being stretchered off [in the 2-0 defeat to Japan on Tuesday],” Schweingruber added.
“Other players have recovered such as Makara, who is back to his best. Sokngon cannot play 90 minutes, not yet fit enough, but could have some impact on the game.”
Schweingruber has downplayed the significance of the recent suspensions of seven players claiming that, in general, he had no concerns over that issue.
“It’s no secret – our first and second goalkeepers are suspended, and both our remaining keepers have shown in training and friendly matches how good they can be, but have yet to prove it in real games. It’s a slight concern that for a cup final they don’t have the experience at this level,” he said.
There is an apparent lack of depth in the side following those suspensions, but the Crown camp is confident of handling this
Interestingly, there are nine former Crown players now in the Naga ranks, and that will make this contest even more intriguing when it kicks off at 6pm under the floodlights.
Boeung Ket face Cambodia Tiger FC in the third-fourth place playoff first leg tomorrow at Olympic Stadium at 6pm.