Naga Corp (L) and Kirivong Sok Sen Chey players contest a header during their Metfone C-League match last year. The sides will face off in the semi-final of the Samdech Hun Sen Cup today, Feb. 08, 2013. Photograph: Sreng Meng Srun/Phnom Penh Post
Four teams remain in the seventh Samdech Hun Sen Cup with semi-finals to be played today at Olympic Stadium. The Ministry of National Defence will meet Phnom Penh Crown at 2pm before Kirivong Sok Sen Chey take on Naga Corp at 4pm.
2010 Cup champions MND progressed to the knockout rounds as winners of Group A after defeating Kratie and Chamkarmon but losing 4-2 to Naga. In their quarter-final and grudge match against National Police Commissary, who they had played in the Metfone C-League a few weeks before and had staged a walk-off in protest of a controversial goal, the Army team prevailed 2-0 without much in the way of drama.
MND have been one of the most impressive offensive sides in the competition this year, notching up 18 goals over the course of just four games. Their tactics, according to coach Op Sam Ath, include taking Crown’s midfield import Bin Thierry out of the game.
“[Thierry] is the tactical head of the team and the reason that [national team] forwards Khim Borey and Sos Souhana are playing a very good tournament,” the Army coach told the Post yesterday.
“Of course having the French-Cambodian player available for the Hun Sen Cup helps Crown out a lot. I think my coaching staff and I have identified their biggest weakness in their very young defence, and we will try to exploit it as much as possible.”
Crown coach Sam Schweingruber, meanwhile, was wary of taking their recent good form for granted ahead of today’s clash.
“After kicking out Preah Khan Reach and Boeung Ket Rubber Field, defending champions of the league and the Hun Sen Cup, we have to be considered favourites for the tournament. I just hope that my efforts in keeping our young team on the ground worked out,” he said.
“Even though we are a strong team we cannot look down and take opponents easily, as that is probably the main mistake PKR and Boeung Ket made against us. We have to identify our own weaknesses and deal with it during the game, and then I am confident we will win the game.”
Errors have been marginal for the two-time winners of the tournament in this current campaign, with their only slip-up coming in a 1-1 draw against Asia-Europe University in the preliminary stage. Crown found the net ten times during wins over Por Sen Chey and Preah Khan Reach before ousting MCL champions Boeung Ket 1-0 in their quarter-final to book a date with MND.
Today’s second semi-final features a David and Goliath affair between Naga and Kirivong, the only remaining provincial side left in contention.
The Takeo-based team are enjoying a club-record Cup run, thanks to a recent restructuring of officials with new, young players brought into rotation, but will be regarded as rank outsiders for making the final. Kirivong are likely to err on caution this afternoon and adjust their squad to a more defensive approach that will see them wage a war of attrition.
“We all know we are a reformed team and therefore are not even closely as experienced as our opponents, but we are confident that with a good defensive stand we can drag out the game and delay it to a penalty shootout,” said Kirivong manager Tep Long Rachana.
Naga are nevertheless odds-on to advance to an unprecedented fourth final, which is set for February 16, where, if they make it, they will hope to finally get their hands on the most coveted domestic club trophy in the Kingdom.