Phnom Penh Crown are well-set to defend their Samdech Hun Sen Cup title in two weeks after breezing through Saturday's semifinal against Preah Khan Reach with 4-0 thrashing.
Phnom Penh Crown's Jean Roger Lappe Lappe (second right) celebrates his hattrick in the semifinals against Preah Khan Reach while team manager Makara (left) embraces his captain Chhol Sothearith.
PHNOM Penh Crown showed exactly why they are the current domestic Cup and Premier League champions with a resounding 4-0 semifinal victory Saturday over last year's finalists Preah Khan Reach (PKR) at Olympic Stadium.
At the beginning, the game was a tight affair with Crown looking slighty more dangerous, penetrating the PKR defence and forcing the keeper into action.
Crown were linking smartly in midfield with clever one-twos, although their attacks fell apart too easily in the final third.
The first goal-scoring opportunity came Crown's way when they were awarded a penalty after an innocuous cross was handled clumsily in the area by PKR's Sok Raksmey.
Crown's national team star Chan Rithy stepped up confidently to take the spotkick but PKR keeper Ouk Mich - Cambodia's second choice goalkeeper - dived well to his right to parry away the strike before jumping up quickly to make a double save from a follow-up effort.
Crown continued to push hard for an opener. Phoung Narong whipped in a terrific cross to find Srey Veasna unmarked, but his header was too weak to worry Ouk Mich.
PKR started to attack on the counter. Mao Van Du Nhat and Lay Raksmey knocked tidy passes to each other to enter the box, but the final shot was lashed wide.
PKR's defence was suffering momentary lapses of concentration. A hospital header back to the keeper by PKR's Soun Thoun was chased down by the lurking Crown striker Jean Roger Lappe Lappe, but the flick off his boot could not be steered on target.
In the 32nd minute, a long ball into the area was met by Lappe Lappe, who used his height advantage to deflect a header into the bottom right corner and open the scoring.
PKR struggled to get the run of the ball despite showing good ambition in breaking from the back but had no definite answer to the Crown offensive threat.
Crown knocked some picturesque long balls to men in space on the flanks but were often guilty of trying to squeeze through gaps in the back line that proved too tight to pass.
In the second half, Crown quickly stamped their authority on the tie. Four minutes after the restart saw woeful PKR defending allow Srey Veasna to dance through to the 6-yard box and lay off to a questionably offside Lappe Lappe to convert the simplest of tap ins and double his day's tally.
Crown's Mpoko Oscar Koua was ruling the midfield, stealing possessions and steaming up the pitch to make telling through balls to the strikers.
Another exciting move saw Crown's Srey Veasna display sublime touch to knock it around PKR defender Phea Pipub but his shot crept just wide of the right post.
In the 57th minute, Lappe Lappe completed his heroic hatrick after receiving a pass from Chan Chhaya and elbowing his way past two hapless defenders to smash through Ouk Mich's arms. The Cameroon striker ran to the sideline to perform a bizarre celebratory dance-come-victory salute with teammates.
PKR looked shellshocked but were lifted by the emergence from the bench of local legend Hok Sochetra in the 60th minute. The veteran striker has scored as a substitute in both of the previous rounds and came on with Vietnamese midfielder Duong Lam Vu, who was so devasting from set pieces in the previous game but sadly lacking for the majority of this tie.
Crown midfielder Koua was still thrilling fans late on. A waltzing run from inside his own half had him beating nearly half the team but unfortunatly he ran out of steam in the area and poked his shot wide.
PKR had flashes of brilliance, notably when Samel Nasa's curling sliced shot from distance ricocheted off the underside of the bar.
In the closing moments, Crown sealed the win with Chan Rithy showing his superior fitness to skip down the left wing and stay clear of chasing defenders before unselfishly squaring to substitute teammate Tunji Akeep to knock past the wrong-footed keeper.
When match referee Duong Sochit - who had adjudicated superbly during the game - blew for full time, the crowd applauded a classy display from the defending champions.
Crown team manager Makara was content after the game with his team's "smooth" performance.
"We practise hard every day at 1pm," he said. "We know their big playmaker number 6 [Nguon Chansothea] so we played a pressing [formation] and didn't let them play the same way they usually do."
"But we respect that, even though they were losing by four goals, they still tried to play well," added Makara.
The Crown manager also noted the fact that his team have yet to concede a goal in the competition.
"I hope our keeper [Peng Bunchhay] will get the best goalkeeper [award]," said Makara, which would grant him 1 million riels (US$243) as a cash prize.
"We are confident we can defend our championship because we know what to do to win," he said.
Photos by Nick Sells (www.nicksellsphotography.com)