Neftchi’s goal scorer Marat Adzhiniiazov slides in to challenge Crown’s Hong Ratana during their AFC President’s Cup game yesterday. Photo by: Sreng Meng Srun
Krygystan champions Neftchi Kochkor-Ata rounded off their AFC President’s Cup Pool A campaign to perfection, posting a 1-0 victory over Phnom Penh Crown at Olympic Stadium yesterday to top the four-team group.
It was the visitor’s right back Marat Adzhiniiazov who made that crucial difference when the game was heading to a goalless stalemate with another magical long ranger which completely caught the Crown backline napping and shattered goalkeeper Peng Bunchay’s six-game clean sheet record.
Neftchi coach Alexander Krestinin sported a mission-accomplished smile as he entered the post-match press conference, declaring that he was happy to end the first phase unbeaten.
“The second phase is a long way off and we will now turn our attention to winning the local league which starts on June 1,” said Krestinin through an interpreter.
“I want to thank the organisers and also the crowd. It was good to see that the crowd was not only cheering the home side but also some of our positive moves.”
Crown coach Bojan Hodak was also content with confirming their advance.
“Our target was to reach the next round – we achieved it. You are upset when you lose, but overall I am happy. It is a first time for Phnom Penh Crown and I think it is a good achievement.”
The Croatian born tactician admitted it “was not a quality game” that ended their home matches in the competition yesterday.
“Three matches in five days is too demanding on the players,” added Hodak, who to the surprise of many pulled the upper crust of his team out of the starting line up.
Crown’s Nigerian import Kingsley Metu joined Kouch Sokumpheak and Chan Chaya on the bench as a second string took charge of the front line. At the back, the experienced Tieng Tiny and Chan Dara also did not start.
Chan Chaya came in as a late substitute midway through the second half and Sokumpheak had barely 13 minutes on the pitch.
“Yes, there is a particular reason why,” answered Hodak in response to questions on his selection. “We sought a postponement of our Metfone C-League game against Kirivong Sok Sen Chey scheduled for [this] Sunday. The Federation refused our request. We complete three matches in five days and one more on Sunday makes it four in eight days, and it is not done anywhere in the world.”
For his part, Deputy Secretary of the Football Federation of Cambodia May Tola felt that a three-day break before their league game was adequate, a claim that clearly did not go down well with the Crown coach.
The only surprise in the Neftchi squad was the absence of star striker Pavel Pavlov. He came in late on the scene and stamped his mark with one crafty move before his trusted colleague Adzhiniiazov created the winning bang.
Earlier yesterday, a hat-trick by Ibrahim Awudu featured in Abhani Limited’s 4-1 victory over Don Bosco Sports Club.
With both teams eliminated, the stakes were low though both maintained a high level of motivation. The Sri Lankan side was first to break the goal duck when Abhani goalkeeper Mohammad Sahidul Alam fumbled with a collection and presented Devinda Bhandara an open goal.
But the joy of scoring their first goal in the competition was shortlived for Don Bosco. Hossain Rony levelled the scores within a minute before Awudu took over with three well spaced strikes to steer the Bangladesh champs to an easy victory.