Phnom Penh Crown’s young star striker Keo Sokngorn.
- Cambodian league champions: 2002 (as Samart United), 2008
- Samdech Hun Sen Cup winners: 2008, 2009
- AFC President Cup: 2005, 2009 (Group stage in both)
- ASEAN club championship: 2003 (Group stage)
- Singapore Cup: 2007 (first round), 2008 (first round), 2009 (Quarterfinals)
THE current Cambodian league and cup champions Phnom Penh Crown finished the regular 2009 season in first place. Formerly known as Samart United, the club won the league in 2002, then changed their name to Hello United before rebranding once more to win the league in 2008 as Phnom Penh Empire. Sponsorship from Crown Casino changed their title for a fourth time for this year's competitions.
Despite a busy schedule of international fixtures, which saw them travel to Kyrgyzstan and Singapore, Crown overcame a slow start to the domestic campaign to finish strongly, six points clear at the top.
With six players currently in the national U23 squad, and several others in the U19 team, Crown will be going into the Super 4 brimming with confidence. Key players expected to feature big include young hotshot Keo Sokngorn, experienced winger Chan Rithy, defensive stalwart and skipper Thul Sothearith, Nigerian front man Tunji Ayoyinka, and midfield maestro Oscar Mpoko.
"Now that we are out of the Singapore Cup, our goal is to go on to win the league," Crown manager Makara Be said, in the buildup to Saturday's match. "We are fully prepared now. With our experience playing abroad, we are confident of going all the way."
"We want to win this cup," stated captain Thul Sothearith. "We have a good team now, and we work for each other".
Thul Sothearith is no stranger to league glory, having won the title twice previously with Khemara Keila, in 2005 and 2006.
Forward Tunji Ayoyinka has had a troubled season, shuttling between Cambodia and Turkey in pursuit of a Western contract, but is happy to be back playing again for Crown. "I am settled now, and I don't see any difficulty in playing Naga," he declared. "We will surely get to the final. With the exposure and team spirit in the camp now, I don't think any team in Cambodia can match Phnom Penh Crown."
Cambodian U19 international Keo Sokngorn is also confident that his team will come out victorious against familiar foes Naga Corp Saturday. "We have won against them twice already [in the regular season] and so we have confidence," he remarked. "We are not scared of them; we must play to win."
Chan Rithy can be Naga striker Chen Chhum is hoping his team can inflict a surprise defeat on Phnom Penh Crown Saturday.
- Cambodian league champions: 2007
- AFC President's Cup: 2008 (Group Stage)
NAGA Corp were the 2007 league champions, and came runners-up to Phnom Penh Crown in this year's Samdech Hun Sen Cup. They kept up the race for a top-four place all season, despite poor performances against fellow Super 4 sides, taking only four points from a possible 18. However, a strong run going into the playoffs could see them spring some surprises.
Naga boast a collection of talented local and foreign players, leaving many wondering why the team led by charismatic manager Michael Thachnen could only manage fourth. Their Nigerian-born midfielder Yemi Oyewole has been scintillating this season, gaining sturdy support from compatriot Friday Nwakuna and local star Sun Sovannarith.
Coach Lam Thiny tasted success as a player for Naga, winning the league in 2007 in his last of seven years at the club. "I think our performance this season has been good, and we will do our best in the semifinal," he said.
The former left midfielder will also be hoping for good fortune against the reigning champions Saturday, with Crown winning all of their previous three meets.
"If we are lucky, we can win," Lam Thiny asserted. "They [Crown] won by luck twice this season, 3-2 and 1-0. Our players are in top form now and we will do our best to win this match to play in the final."
"We are looking forward to victory," said 18-year-old Yemi Oyewole optimistically. "It is going to be tough because Phnom Penh Crown is a quality side, but if we work hard together we can beat them."
"Crown will be favourites ,definitely," agreed striker Chen Chhum. "But we will give them a surprise because no one will give us the chance to win."
Captain Om Thavarak is also determined not to allow Crown another victory. "We struggled to get where we are," he noted. "We have talked to ourselves, and we will push hard to get over this semifinal game."
Photos by Nick Sells (www.nicksellsphotography.com)