Naga Corp's Teab Vatanak scored four goals in their quarterfinal match last weekend.
Preah Khan Reach head coach Prak Sovannara speaks to his team during their quarterfinal.
THE stands of Olympic Stadium will once again reverberate with the sounds of local football fans Saturday for the semifinals of the 2010 Samdech Hun Sen Cup. Three of the four semifinalists – Phnom Penh Crown, Naga Corp and Preah Khan Reach (PKR) – are in familiar territory, having made it this far in last year’s competition, whereas National Defence Ministry (MND) are making their debut at this stage.
PP Crown v Naga Corp
In Saturday’s first match, which kicks off at 2pm, Crown face fellow Casino-backed rivals Naga Corp in a repeat of last year’s final. Crown edged that encounter thanks to a solitary strike by young hotshot Keo Sokngorn to claim their second successive trophy, but Naga seized their opportunity for revenge in the 2009 Cambodian Premier League (CPL) season, clinching the title while Crown finished fourth.
Crown manager Be Makara is confident of victory, looking for ultimate success that yields an added bonus. “We need to win [the title] for the third consecutive time because, according to competition rules, the cup will exclusively belong to us,” he stated.
However, Crown have been hit by injuries to two key players. Striker Keo Sokgnorn is still suffering from an ankle injury, and defender Chan Dara is being treated for a stomach bug.
According to the manager, Chan Rithy, whose future is still uncertain with the club after considering a move to Thai league side Royal Thai Army, will play for the team Saturday after a lengthy absence. On the other hand, Thai coach Apisit Im Amphai decided to cancel his agreement with Thai club Chaing Rai United and return to his position at Crown.
“[Apisit] knows the style of Naga well. We believe in his competence. Rivals Naga are not an easy team, but my players will do their best,” asserted Be Makara.
For Lam Tiny, manager of Naga Corp, believes the game will not necessarily come down to merit. “Two of us are the best and most experienced sides [in Cambodia] so we need to play with determination,” he said. “In football, sometimes we win because of technical performance, and sometimes we win because of chance.”
Naga have no major injury concerns, with a full list of first-team players available for Saturday. The manager also voiced his content with the current top form of Teab Vatanak, who netted four against Build Bright United in last week’s quarterfinals.
“[Teab Vatanak] will be one of our most useful players alongside other experienced teammates. I hope that we will be smiling after the semifinal,” the manager said.
MND v Preah Khan Reach
Military backed side MND have finally broken through to the semifinals after three exits in past Hun Sen Cup quarterfinals. Military police-backed team PKR on the other hand have finished second and third in the previous two Cup campaigns.
Saturday will be the very first time the two have met each other in the Cup, although the teams have faced each other regularly in CPL fixtures.
Prak Sovannara, head coach of PKR, assured of his team’s focus ahead of the game by phone Thursday. “It’s the cup competition. If we lose a match we will lose everything, so we need to concentrate by playing carefully,” he said, adding that his team had no significant injuries. “I can’t ignore the talents of opponents MND, who boast a lot of stars in their squad.”
The head coach hailed the efforts of skipper Samel Nasa, who scored two goals against Khemara in the quarterfinal. “In previous competitions, he showed us great performances, and I hope he will maintain [his form] in the upcoming game.”
MND assistant coach Hor Sok Heng revealed uncertainty over bright young winger Nov Soseila (ankle injury) and second choice goalkeeper Sou Yaty (wrist injury). “However, we are confident in the capabilites of other boys who have been in regular training,” he stated.
The assistant coach expressed the need for quality match officiating to ensure a fair playing field. “We need a great game,” he remarked. “We don’t want to see any errors [by referees] during the game.”
Photos by Nick Sells (www.nicksellsphotography.com)