The highly anticipated clash between former champions and current Metfone C-League top two Phnom Penh Crown and Naga Corp garners riveting attention among the six games slated for the weekend.
With the two-week break for the Khmer New year festivities behind them, the focus for both Naga and Crown shifts back to the serious business of consolidation when they face off at the Olympic Stadium for a twilight meeting kicking off at 6pm tomorrow.
The significance of the outcome impacting the team’s overall psyche the rest of the way cannot be overlooked, even though it is early days.
But, being fully aware of the sense of occasion, both teams will take to the pitch with an abundance of grit and self belief, cutting a clear path to an action-packed game where the prevailing mood will be to a great extent grab and hold.
Crown shrugged the break off with a 9-0 drubbing of Albirex in a friendly last Saturday, indicating that very little time or momentum was lost in preparations ahead of this vital game. Cameroonian Baldwin Ngwa struck three goals to advertise his readiness for duty.
George Bisan’s decisive goal magic has worked twice for Crown in their 1-0 defeats of National Police and TriAsia and he could well be the one to trouble the Naga backline the most.
Key defender Odion Obadin has been ruled out in light of his impending dental surgery, while Theary Chantavin and Boris Kok will be absent, the former with a broken bone in the foot and the latter having been involved in a motorbike accident during New Year.
Crown coach Sam Schweingruber believes one of their advantages lies in their youthful line up.
“Naga is one of strongest clubs in MCL, who have lots of experience as there are lots of good foreign and domestic players. Some are national team footballers, but those are older than our players. We have stronger and younger players to handle them,” he told the Post.
Naga coach Prak Sovanara will miss out on this fixture as he is away attending an AFC coaches program. For a team which relies so heavily on his tactical guidance and vast experience, his absence from the dugout could hurt in some ways, but the Naga camp is not unduly worried, maintaining that the team can cope.
As far as the current form line goes, there is nothing much to choose between the two, the common thread being their losses to third placed Boeung Ket Rubber Field.
In four previous meetings since early 2012, Naga have beaten Crown once and drawn the other three. Regardless of what the past record says, it is the match day form that eventually counts.
Before this needle Naga-Crown affair, defending champions Svay Rieng will run into a resurgent Build Bright United, who are trying to turn their league form around after their good run in the Hun Sen Cup.
Away at the Old Stadium tomorrow, Ministry of National Defence has the rock-bottom Albirex Niigata in their sights. It could be a tough ask for Albirex to stand up to a rugged Army outfit.
In the day’s second fixture at the Old Stadium, league debutants TriAsia Phnom Penh FC, who have held their own against some of the best in the business so far, will be looking to maximise their returns against Asia Europe University.
A couple of serious blows after their Cup triumph has left National Police Commissary searching for answers. The Police could well lift themselves up from these recent setbacks at the Olympic Stadium on Sunday if they play hard and true against Western University, whose own form has dipped a bit.
The weekend’s night cap will feature last season’s runners-up Boeung Ket against Kirivong Sok Sen Chey.
The 2012 champions are not far off the pace and given their strengths should find the going to their liking against a tottering Takeo-based Kirivong.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHENG SERYRITH
At the Old Stadium
Saturday April 26
MND v Albirex Niigata – 1:45pm
TriAsia v Asia Europe Uni – 3:45pm
At the Olympic Stadium
Svay Rieng v BBU – 4pm
Naga Corp v PP Crown – 6pm
Sunday April 27
National Police v Western Uni – 4pm
Kirivong SSC v Boeung Ket – 6pm