THE 2005 and 2006 League champions will be going into Saturday’s final as slight underdogs, despite finishing above their opponents in the regular season, and the players and technical crew are determined to make history for themselves. Khemara reached the semifinals of the 2006 AFC President’s Cup and are already looking forward to next year’s international competition if they get their hands on the league trophy.
“We want to win so we can play in the region like we did in the past,” manager Salang Kang stated. “Even though we lack sponsors, everybody is looking forward to this final so that we can win and go on to play in AFC President Cup ... We want to do better next time.”
At the beginning of the season, coach Ung Kanyanith – who captained the side to their last league title in 2006 – said that Khemara’s goal was to qualify for the Super 4 and anything more will be a bonus considering their tight budget and diminutive squad size. However, they surprised everyone to make the playoff finals, in no small part thanks to the explosive talent of strike partners Kuoch Sokumpheak and Nelson Oladiji, who combined to score 26 of the team’s 40 goals during the league campaign.
“Sure we can win,” said an excited Ung Kanyanith. “We hope to get the championship. That’s what we are playing for.”
“We are in the final, and we want to play to win,” asserted central defender Chan Dara. “We are ready to face any team now.”
Playing with a passion
Khemara play football with a lot of heart. Their defence features big, physical bodies, their midfield has technical players and their two forwards are fast and strong. Khemara fans create a thrilling atmosphere at the stadium, especially when their talismanic star Kuoch Sokumpheak is on one of his darting runs.
“No matter who we are against or who is in the team for us, we play the same way in every game and our mentality is always the same,” Ung Kanyanith declared. “We prepare in the right way, the team spirit is high and I have worked on my team to have confidence in themselves.”
Defender Chan Veasna was also upbeat about his team’s chances Saturday. “We pass the ball very well, and if we keep possession well, we can beat Naga”, he stated. “As a defender, I do my job with a strong mind, and so I will be going into this final with determination.”
Khemara will hope their goalkepper Mak Theara can avoid injury as their reserve goalkeeper is not registered, making him ineligible to play. Also, they will hope Kuoch Sokumpheak can last the distance, as his presence seems to give Khemara the winning edge.
Khemara Keila’s David Adeyinka (right) and Nelson Oladiji will hope to turn in fine performances Saturday to overcome Naga Corp.
Omaraka integrates well
Joel Omaraka was the signing that was most interesting this year, coming into the heart of Khemara defence to bring some stability. Along with Preah Khan Reach, Khemara has the best defensive record in the regular season, letting in only 21 goals. Omaraka’s towering frame can also prove a threat to the opposition goal during set pieces, and his performance against the Naga forward line will be key to the success of Khemara Saturday.
“I thank God for the success I have achieved so far this season,” said the 18-year-old fullback. “We want to do our best for the fans by lifting the cup. I will be going all out to shut the doors against Naga attackers.”
With just 15 players to choose from, Ung Kanyarith has the numbers against him compared with a formidable Naga bench. However, the coach claimed fewer players make it easier to integrate them into a winning side. Saturday, Khemara will field five in the middle of the park, with diminutive David Adeyinka playing a supporting role.
Khemara scored twice against Preah Khan Reach in the semifinals with a speedy and powerful counterattack, and the Naga defence will need to be alert to this danger if they are to come out unscathed.
Hats off for the boss
Manager Salang Kang has done a tremendous job to maintain the club with severely limited funds from friends and supporters, after former sponsor Prince Norodom Ranariddh left for France. Fortunately, the signings he’s made have turned out to be wise investments, and most Khemara fans will respect his efforts, even if the team fail to clinch this year’s title.
Photos by Nick Sells (www.nicksellsphotography.com)