A half-dozen front-runners emerge to vie for the league’s 1-million-riel top-scorer prize, along with the sides likely to be competing in the Super Four tournament at season’s end
Goals light up CPL first chapter
The first half of the Cambodian Premier League season witnessed plenty of goals, with no fewer than 59 players able to find the back of the net. The FFC has created a prize of 1 million riels (US$240) for the season's top scorer as an incentive for players.
Nigerian born Prince "Uche" Justine of Spark FC presently leads the pack with a sublime nine from nine games, while homegrown hero and current Hun Sen Cup golden boot holder, Kouch Sokumpheak of Khemara Keila closely trails with seven. Also in the running is Olisa Emeka Onyemerea of Preah Khan Reach with six goals to his name, while boy wonder Keo Sokgnorn of Phnom Penh Crown and Nigerian Julius Chukwumeka of Kirivong Sok Sen Chey keep sight of the leaders with five each.
A total of 137 goals were scored in the first stanza of the CPL, with Naga Corp providing the top offensive stat of 26 goals. Naga have the distinction of scoring five in a single game twice already. Unsurprisingly, early relegation candidates Post Tel Club and Phouchung Neak have the worst attacking record with 6 goals apiece.
On the other hand, league leaders Preah Khan Reach have the tightest defense, conceding just six goals compared to the woeful 23 let in by Post Tel.
With hostilities set to resume this weekend, the battle for the top scorers' award will be fierce, with frontmen vying for the top prize. If Uche Justine's purported move to Phnom Penh Crown transpires, who can predict what tally he will end the season with after playing with some of the league's best providers.
With clubs pursuing a top-four finish to qualify for the Super Four post-season competition and lower sides looking to claw their way out of the relegation zone, the second half of the CPL season promises to provide many more exciting goals.
CPL Mid-season Roundup
Preah Khan Reach (PKR)
The military police side have outdone themselves in the race for this year's Cambodian Premier League (CPL). With reigning champions Crown snapping at their heels just 3 points back, they will look to continue their fine form in the second half. The team has been a little quiet during the mid-season transfer window, but if they succeed with the signing of former Nigerian youth international Michael Ekene and Cameroon-born Allen Njoh Njoh to add to an impressive squad that includes Olisa Onyemerea, Sam El Nasa and Khoun Laboravy, they look unlikely to relinquish their top position. (BPL equivalent: Liverpool)
Phnom Penh Crown
Old soldiers never die, as they say and Crown have proved it again. Barely four weeks ago, the league champions and Cup holders were down in seventh position, but three consecutive wins have seen them lifted up to second. They are the team most likely to dethrone PKR from the top spot, with manager Makara Be looking set to add the league's top scorer Prince Uche Justine and former Naga striker Usman to replace loaned-out striker Jean-Roger Lappe Lappe and Tunji Ayoyinka, who is set to leave for Turkey soon. The double champions will surely be firing on all cylinders when the league resumes this weekend. (BPL equivalent: Manchester United)
The 2007 champions have continued to falter when it matters most. With an glittering array of stars like Meas Channa, Sunday Okonkwo, Chhim Sambo, Teab Vathanak and Yemi Oyewole, and the amount of support the team gets from its wealthy sponsors, Naga should be winning nearly everything. They churned out some good result towards the end of the first stanza but will have to work hard in the second to guarantee the other two heavyweights don't run away with it. (BPL equivalent: Chelsea)
Khemara started the season with a gut-wrenching loss to Kirivong Sok Sen after taking a two-goal lead, only to fall 2-4. The team stuttered in the early rounds but found their feet towards the mid-season break. Manager Salang Kang believes his modest and young side can go all the way to qualify for the super four, after which anything could happen. With international star striker Kouch Sokumpheak staying fit and remaining in cracking form, his goals and buildup play will go a long way to help the 2006 champions realizing their dreams. (BPL equivalent: Arsenal)
Kirivong Sok Sen Chey
The Team from Takeo surprised everyone by heading the table for the better part of the first rounds. However, the past three games have seen the team run out of steam with only one point from a possible nine. It seems inevitable that they are on a downwards trajectory, and the incessant change of technical crew has done little to help their cause. Even with the club's top scorer, Julius Chukwumeka, netting regularly, the defense continue to let in late goals, not indicative of a team aspiring for a top finish. The club has been busy in the mid-season and has reportedly snapped up a pair of players from struggling side Phouchung Neak. (BPL equivalent: Wigan)
National Defense Ministry (MND)
The team more popularly known as the "Army" by locals have endeared themselves to the hearts of many neutrals. MND are the only side without a foreign player in their team, and are thus lacking in the physicality and football knowledge required at the top level. However, the youthful side make up for that deficiency with their pace and passing game. They have failed to live up to expectation in the first round, and despite losing the same number of games as Crown, they have drawn nearly half of their games in the first round. If MND can turn their draws to wins in the second half of the season, they will surely be able to break into the top four. (BPL equivalent: Fulham)
The Spark Entertainment Centre team has been entertaining the fans this year. After going three games without a loss, they fell in three straight and drew three more. The team lies in the seventh position, and with a financial crisis threatening to disband the recently promoted side, one only hopes that the team can avoid relegation and attract new sponsors for the next campaign. (BPL equivalent: Hull City)
Build Bright United (BBU)
Meas Samoeurn of BBU has been modest about his team's achievement when the team was flying high at the beginning of the season. Aside from the revelation of Spark, BBU is the team that has finally given the big teams a run for their money. With a stunning victory against Crown earlier in the season, the team has never really looked back. Unfortunately, BBU were distracted by university league games, and lost the coveted top-four spot to Khemara Keila. With the signing of former PKR striker Augustine Ogbemi, the team is set to reclaim their elite position, despite their lowly current placing of eighth. (BPL equivalent: Tottenham)
THE IN AT THE DEEP-ENDERS:
Post Tel and Phouchung Neak
Barring a miracle, both clubs seem doomed for relegation with a collective effort of just four points. The transfer window saw the Navy side loose some of their best local legs, while Post Tel's gloomy financial situation didn't allow any star signings either. With 9 points separating Post Tel from relegation zone, a string of good results and loss of form by other teams might see a turnaround for the team. (BPL equivalents: Middlesbrough and Newcastle of last year)