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Naga, Crown wrestle out draw

Naga, Crown wrestle out draw

Title chasers Naga Corp and Phnom Penh Crown played out a fiery 2-2 Wednesday

Photo by: Nick Sells (www.nicksellsphotography.com)
Naga Corp’s Meas Channa (front left) scores a free kick past the Phnom Penh Crown wall during their Metfone C-League clash Wednesday at Olympic Stadium.

Wednesday’s fixture at Olympic Stadium was exactly the type of match that will get the juices flowing of the Cambodian footballing public. It had a bit of everything thrown into the mix, as Naga Corp met Phnom Penh Crown in a battle of the casino-backed teams that took place both on and off the pitch. It was also the final game of the first half of the Metfone C-League campaign, and a win for Naga would’ve taken them back to the top of the table above current leaders BBU with Crown already in third spot.

It was Crown who started like a runaway train. Their highly-talented whizzkid Keo Sokngorn swept in the first goal after just two minutes, finishing off a sweet pass from Srey Veasna, before some fans had even taken their seats.

On ten minutes they were two up and coasting. Uche Prince Justine has great power in his shooting boots, but he can also craft a delicate finish when required and that’s exactly what he did to notch Crown’s second goal and his ninth of the season. Last season’s top scorer Justine currently sits a goal behind the league’s leading marksman Nuth Sinoun of Build Bright United in the race for the Golden Boot.

Naga, who have shown a workmanlike resilience this season rather than the free-flowing football that Crown often display, were not about to give up easily despite the two-goal deficit. Under coach Prak Sovannara, they are gelling well again, as they did when they won last season’s championship. On 14 minutes, they were back in the hunt.

Meas Channa is known for his tricky wing-play, but his dead-ball skills are just as effective. In true David Beckham style, he curled a 25-yard free kick up and over the defensive wall to beat the despairing dive of Peng Bunchhay in the Crown goal.

The rest of the first-half see-sawed from end to end in a pulsating display from both teams that kept the 5,000 spectators on the edge of their seats.

After the half-time breather, the breakneck action resumed, with Justine and Srey Veasna going close for Crown, and keeper Peng Bunchhay keeping out a Meas Channa shot on the turn with a point-blank stop. Neither side held back in their challenges, and referee Tuy Vichheka was a busy man, flashing yellow cards for fun and absorbing criticism from both teams.

Naga’s Joseph Oyewole’s long raking passes to his strikers were causing Crown all sorts of problems, and it from one of these that Naga drew level on 78 minutes, though the build-up to the goal was shrouded in controversy. Referee Vichheka was forty yards behind play when he blew for an alleged push on Teab Vatanak by Crown’s Tieng Tiny on the edge of the box, no doubt convinced by Vatanak’s piercing scream as he crumpled to the floor.

The striker picked himself up and after the referee had waved away the Crown protests, Vatanak repeated the exquisite skill shown by his teammate earlier in the game, with a beautifully flighted free-kick into the top left-hand corner of the Crown net.

It was Naga, back from the dead and determined to grab that top spot in the league standings, who pressed for the winner. Twice Jospeh Oyewole should’ve been more accurate with his shooting from the edge of the penalty area, but he rushed both shots and they flashed harmlessly over the crossbar.

The controversial leveller had angered Crown, and that came to the fore as referee Vichheka blew the final whistle. Players from both teams were involved in pushing and shoving as they left the pitch with Crown’s Sani Saidu uncontrollably incensed by what he saw as an unjust outcome of the match.

Naga, meanwhile, were satisfied with coach Prak Sovannara summing it up. “It was a great comeback from 2-0 down,” he expressed. “I’m so pleased with my team’s attitude, they never gave up and deserved a point in a very good game.”

Naga now sit a point behind leaders BBU, with Crown in third spot, as we go into a week-long break at the halfway point of the Metfone C-League campaign.

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