Never before in the seven year history of the prestigious Samdech Hun Sen Cup has there been a semifinal line-up more intriguing than the one this year. Few would have thought a year ago that two Metfone C-League newcomers would be among the last four standing ahead of their more accomplished rivals. But here they are.
Sreng Meng Srun/Phnom Penh Post
Preah Khan Reach’s Phany I Rotha (above) and National Police’s Ngoun Chansothea clash in their league match last year.
National Police Commissary emerged from their mid-table finish in the league last season to make a bold bid for a place in the final for the first time. Standing in the way of that exciting prospect are Cup holders Preah Khan Reach, who look as well rounded as ever and are in ship shape for an encore. Just look at what they did to the likes of two-time winners and current league champions Phnom Penh Crown on Wednesday.
It is in the contrasting routes that PKR and National Police took on their way to this clash that mirrors their inherent strengths. The Military Police backed PKR were in absolute control of the pitch at the Old Stadium against their familiar foes Crown. All the exciting elements that normally add up when PKR get going were there to be seen.
Upfront the star of the side, Khuon Laboravy, was bundle of energy, twigging openings at will. Then there was this fluid midfield which controlled the pace and a supportive backline adept in fighting counters. It is hard for any local side to match PKR when they play to this level of efficiency.
It is not unreasonable to expect Khuon Laboravy to be the one to ignite the passions in the side on the attacking front and he has his own personal best of 22 goals last season to better in the race to the Golden Boot. His tally now stands at 19, six clear of Naga Corp’s Teab Vathanak, who is the closest in a list of 61 players whose names appear in the scoring charts during the second phase of the competition, which has so far produced 178 goals.
The Police have shown remarkable resilience in fighting their way out of adverse situations, like the one they faced against Build Bright United in Wednesday’s quarterfinals. The comeback win took shape in the last 10 minutes, holding out a clear warning to any side crossing their path that they cannot be treated as light material.
Military police-backed PKR may enjoy a slight psychological edge over their rivals today, but the current Police side is not the type which will cede ground without a fight.
Meanwhile, history repeats itself in some shape and form when Naga Corp and Chhlam Samuth get down for the first semifinal at the Olympic Stadium. This is the fourth year in a row that Naga are among the last 4, although none of these attempts have brought them the cheer of going on to win the Cup yet. Last year Naga were beaten into third place following two years of losing at the final hurdle.
“This is the year we want to break that Cup jinx,” coach Prak Sovannara told the Post after Naga’s somewhat laboured 1-0 victory over Kirivong Sok Sen Chey on Wednesday. “Our focus is to win this Cup.”
Chhlam Samuth gate-crashing the semifinals is either a shock or surprise depending on which side of the argument you are. The Navy side barely managed to keep its league status secure last season when the relegation battle went down to the wire with Prek Pra Keila, who eventually went out.
However, the new season has seen the Sea Sharks in a totally different light and a few significant personnel changes - like roping in experienced Nuth Sinoun - has seemingly done some good for the team dynamic.
Chhlam Samuth showed gumption beyond belief in getting past 2010 Cup winners National Defence Ministry in a nerve tingling penalty shootout that gave them this precious semifinal place.
Interestingly, Chhlam Samuth is a rebranding of Phouchung Neak, who lost out to Naga at the same stage in 2009.
Form, record and reputation point to a safe passage for the two domestic heavyweights, Naga and PKR, but they better be on their guard.
All matches played at Olympic Stadium
Friday February 10
- Naga Corp v Chhlam Samuth – 2pm
- Preah Khan Reach v National Police Commissary – 4:45pm
Saturday February 11
- Third Place Playoff – 3pm
Sunday February 12
- Grand Final – 4pm