It was a case of fourth rather than third-time lucky for Naga as they finally got their hands on the Samdech Hun Sen Cup with a 5-3 penalty shootout victory over Ministry of National Defence in Saturday’s final at Olympic Stadium.
The teams once again had their shooting skills from eleven metres tested after both had progressed to the title decider via semi-final shootouts. Naga, sporting their new amethyst and indigo-striped away kit, prevailed with some clinical finishing on Saturday to lift the trophy for the first time in the club’s history, putting behind them the pain of losing three previous Cup finals.
“I am really excited about finally winning the Hun Sen Cup. The success was made possible because we worked as a unit on all levels. The board, coaching staff and players worked together so well to overcome many difficulties to win today,” Naga coach Lim Noun told reporters after the match.
The Army team started strongly but looked to have ceded control to Naga in the 22nd minute. A shot from Sun Sovanrithy through a sea of legs in the area should’ve been an easy collection for MND keeper Sou Yaty, but the national team stopper made a complete hash of it, fumbling the ball and allowing it to creep over the line.
However, with Naga players, bench and fans busy celebrating, the linesman’s flag indicated an offside against Kob Isa. The referee endorsed his colleague’s call and ruled out the goal, despite fierce protests that the Naga striker had neither touched the ball nor interfered with the keeper.
From that point on, the usually rock solid Sou Yaty seemed way off his game, missing an additional two simple saves in the next ten minutes, although Naga failed to capitalise.
MND’s Chhin Chhoeurn was having an outstanding match, covering almost every inch of the pitch with his tireless work rate and creating by far the most chances for his team, including a sharp shot on the goal in the 42nd minute, which was blocked well by Om Thavrak.
The teams went into the halftime break still searching for a gamebreaker as the crowd received entertainment in the form of a lucky draw in which the winner took home a Yamaha FZ Motocycle. The huge TV screen on the south side of the stands flashed up the 0-0 scoreline and clock, something that had been strangely omitted during play in favour of action replays and slightly delayed coverage from the MyTV broadcast. The score and clock was turned off again for the second half, a disappointing oversight by the organisers.
Both sides emerged from the changing rooms with a tentative approach to the restart. After showing their strength from corner kicks in their semi-final, MND continued to look dangerous from flagkicks against Naga. Pum Tola and Chhin Chhoeurn whipped in crosses that had the Naga backline in a flutter.
Naga were still seemingly on top, but the clearest scoring opportunities fell for the Army. With twenty minutes remaining, Thong Udom had a shot at the Naga goal from just five metres out that was expertly thwarted by Phorn Ratana, who was having a flawless day between the sticks.
Extra time and then spotkicks appeared the inevitable conclusion for the deadlocked tie, with fatigue on both sides rapidly coming into effect. Guests of honour Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema and Education, Youth and Sport Minister Im Sethy saw only minor opportunities arising from the remainder of the game.
Naga exuded real confidence and composure in converting their penalties, with Chum and Isa entertaining the fans with forward rolls in jubilation.
Their opponents also had a few competent strikes, but fell behind in their first effort when Tong Udom chipped weakly to the left to command a straightforward stop from Ratana, who went on to be named best goalkeeper of the tournament.
With Naga scoring their first four spotkicks, it was left to Naga’s Om Thavrak to seal victory with a fifth successive goal, the captain tucking it away in the corner and falling to his knees before being mobbed by team-mates.
Phorn Ratana told the Post: “I have to thank my coaches. Without their great training I would have never played a good tournament and had a lot harder time in the penalty shootouts. We knew the preferred way that almost all of our opponents took penalties. That helped a lot in winning against Kirivong and MND via shootouts.”
New sponsorship deals with a string of Japanese companies including Yamaha, Toyota and Denso are a sign of increased interest in Cambodia’s domestic competitions and will hopefully help improve the overall standard and condition of players in the Kingdom. The VIP area of the main stand was notably full of Japanese executives enjoying the atmosphere of the final.
Along with the gleaming Samdech Hun Sen Cup trophy and winners medals, Naga received 80 million riel ($20,086) in prize money, while MND picked up half of that sum as runners-up.
Third place team Crown were handed a cheque for 20 million riels along with another one for 5 million riels as winners of the Fair Play award.
The Golden Boot award for top scorer of the tournament deservedly went to one of Cambodia’s hottest young talents, Chan Vathanaka of Boeung Ket Rubber Field, who scored eleven goals including an amazing seven-goal haul against Pailin. The national team attacking midfielder went home with one million riel and a trophy for his cabinet.
Naga’s Ratana also collected one million riel for his Golden Gloves award, while teammate Chum won a brand new Yamaha FZ for being the Most Valuable Player of the campaign.
To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Derbuc at [email protected]
With assistance from Chhorn Norn