In a gladiatorial contest of 120 minutes spilling into two spells of extra time, holders Preah Khan Reach retained the Samdech Hun Sen Cup with a 2-1 victory over Naga Corp yesterday with the winning goal coming off talismanic striker Khuon Laboravy at a packed Olympic Stadium.
The inevitable winning turn for the military police-backed club came minutes after Laboravy’s rasping freekick had been saved by Naga keeper Phoung Ratana in the second term of extra time. As if vengeance was his, Laboravy launched himself into a spectacular burst into the box and found an angular shot of perfection to wean the match away from Naga with the newly installed high-tech score board ticking 113 minutes on the clock.
Until then, the fight had been even and honours square. A snap goal in the 21st minute by Chim Sambo had exposed the chinks in a somewhat panicky PKR defence. Speedy Chin Chum created panic with a blind dash into the area, enticing defender Sok Rithy and goal keeper Sar Sopheak to close in on him. In this melee, the loose ball invitingly came in the path of Sambo.
But at the stroke of half time, PKR found succour in an equaliser from a tidy Prak Mony Udom finish on the run after coach Sam Vann Veth had reinforced the backline by bringing in Soun Thoun.
An abrasive second half had been full of thrust and parry but a goal-mouth incident on the 70th minute nearly fouled up the atmosphere on the pitch with both Naga and PKR camps at the sharp end of an argument over the legitimacy of a goal.
An open header from Naga’s Chin Cum which faintly brushed the inside of the upright appeared to have crossed the line before PKR’s Nen Sothearath cleared the ball. The Naga bench were insistent that it was indeed a goal, but the officials thought otherwise much to PKR’s collective sigh of relief.
“I am certain 100 per cent that it was a goal. We were clearly denied. It came at a crucial phase and it changed the whole complexion of the game,” Naga coach Prak Sovanara told the Post after the match, although he emphasised he was not holding it as an excuse.
“Once we were ahead we had a few good chances to consolidate but we couldn’t. That probably set us back a bit in the second half,” added the softly spoken coach.
PKR coach Sam Venn Veth chose not to comment on the controversy over the goal. He admitted that the defence had been poorly organised in the first half but said he plugged the loophole by substituting relatively inexperienced Yun Mesa with Soun Thoun.
“I was confident that our players would rise to the occasion and I am happy they delivered in the end,” he said.
Khuon Laboravy’s match winning strike took his personal tally to 22 goals, which matched his record haul of last year’s Cup campaign. By a long way he was the winner of the Golden Boot, the next best being Naga’s Teab Vathanak on 13 goals.
But that glorious effort by the PKR hitman was somewhat smudged by his impulsive actions in the last few minutes of the game when he picked up two yellow cards in quick succession for defiance. In fact there were a slew of yellow card bookings on both sides as the tension on the pitch mounted under blazing lights, reminding everyone of the heat that was being generated.
With the victory, PKR were once again handed the gleaming Hun Sen Cup trophy and accompanying winner’s cheque of 80 million riels (US$19,800). Naga walked away with the runners-up bonus of 40 million riels, as well as the 5 million riels bounty associated with the Fair Play team award.
PKR’s Khuon Laboravy collected the 1 million riels prize as top scorer, while his teammate Sar Sophea also cashed in to the tune of 1 million riels as best goalkeeper.
The referee quartet headed by Thon Chanketya, who officiated the final yesterday, were awarded 5 million riels as best referee team.
The Football Federation of Cambodia, who hosted the five-week long nationwide tournament, also received a welcome cash injection, with a oversized cheque for US$50,000 signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen passed to the organising committee by Phnom Penh governor Kep Chuktema during the closing ceremony at Olympic Stadium last night.
In the run up to the final showdown, Naga disposed off Chhlam Samuth 4-0 in the first semifinal on Friday. A Chim Sambo double was the feature of Naga with Chin Chum and Kop Isa adding a goal each.
In the second semifinal, PKR defeated National Police Commissary 4-0 on the back of a Laboravy brace and complimentary goals from Moul Daravoan and Hoy Phallin.
In the third place play off on Saturday, National Police were too good for Chhlam Samuth, winning 3-0. Consistent Srey Udom opened the scoring for the Police and So Rasy polished the tally off with a double.