Boeung Ket’s Keo Sokngorn (R) vies with Preah Khan Reach’s Suon Veasna during their Metfone C-League match at Olympic Stadium on August 1. The sides will face each other in the Super 4 playoff semifinals on Sunday. Photograph: Sreng Meng Srun/Phnom Penh Post
The Metfone C-League turns to its adopted, American-style post-season playoff format this weekend, with the Super 4 semi-finals between the top four finishers during the regular campaign playing out at Olympic Stadium.
Sunday’s opening fixture, at 2:30pm, sees second-placed Boeung Ket Rubber Field take on double Hun Sen Cup champions Preah Khan Reach, while the 5pm kickoff features league leaders Naga Corp against fourth side National Police Commissary.
Although Naga are the only club to have lifted the coveted league trophy in the past, in 2007 and 2009, PKR are in the hunt for their first league title and second piece of silverware in 2012.
The Police last ruled the Kingdom when they clinched the National Football Championship in 2000, and have continued to improve since gaining promotion to the MCL two years ago. They also won the ASEAN Police-Eximbank Cup in Vietnam last week.
Kampong Cham outfit Boeung Ket have taken the league by storm in their debut season, beating Phnom Penh Crown in both their meetings this year and contributing to the reigning champions’ failure to reach the knockout stage.
A move to include Nigerian hitman Julius Oiboh, who won the Golden Boot award last season when playing for Naga, for the Super 4 competitions angered many in the league, and PKR lodged a complaint with the Football Federation of Cambodia.
According to Boeung Ket, Oiboh had been pencilled in as their fifth foreign squad member since the mid-season break, but had played for Thai Division 1 club JW Rangsit FC during their season. Oiboh’s compatriot Nwakuna Friday is the MCL’s top scorer on 20 goals, and is set to be a decisive factor on Sunday.
Boeung Ket coach Prak Vuthy was also keen to stress the importance of their local players. “Keo Sokgnorn, Khiev Vibol and Touch Pancharong are doing well for the national team, so they will keep doing well for Boeung Ket,” the coach said.
“[PKR] are a young, talented side. We have a tough game on our hands,” added team manager Be Makara, who won three championships with Crown.
The loss of star striker Khoun Laboravy due to injury has not stopped PKR from expecting safe passage through to the final. “We will overcome Boeung Ket,” promised PKR general secretary Ork Samnang.
“Midfielder Prak Mony Udom is back [from injury and international duty] and players such as Hoy Phallin, Soun Veasna, Chea Samnang and Nen Sothearoth, Nigerian attacking-midfielder David Njoku and Bologun Olawale [on loan from Vietnamese side Saigon FC] will threaten Boeung Ket.”
Naga coach Prak Sovannara noted the Police would not be an easy team to beat on Sunday, and hoped the rainy-season conditions would assist their passage to a third domestic title.
“If we play in cool weather, we will have an advantage,” the coach said, adding that key individuals for their game were Om Thavrak, Choun Chum, Teab Vathanak, Sun Sopanha and Phorn Ratana.
Police coach Ung Kanyanith, meanwhile, acknowledged a hard task ahead against the table-toppers and their coach, whom he described as the best in Cambodia.
“But our team will play with determination. We don’t fear any team,” he said.