Phnom Penh Crown's meeting with Preah Khan Reach was originally scheduled to be the final game of the season until the fixtures were redrawn by the FFC at the midway point. PKR started off like a train, winning the pre-season Hun Sen Cup in style and looking likely to be Crown's main rivals for the Metfone C-League championship this term. However, once Naga signed Julius Oiboh all that changed and PKR have slipped into the third spot, vying with the Army to maintain that position come the end of the season. Like Crown, PKR have seen a change in their head coach with Rith Dikar stepping down a few weeks ago to concentrate on his U-19 national team duties, passing the baton to Sam Vandeth. For Crown, David Booth assumed control of the team following the departure of Bojan Hodak and has won all 7 games in which he's been in charge. In looking ahead to Sunday's match-up, I thought it would be interesting to look through the possible respective line-ups and compare player for player ahead of the big game.
Let's start in goal where Peng Bunchhay, still only 19 years old, has kept 10 clean sheets in the 14 league matches he's played for Crown this season, looking pretty accomplished and confident, especially with his aerial handling this term. It came as a surprise to most observers when he lost his place in the national squad. Opposing him will be Ouk Mic, now the grandfather of Cambodian football, despite his official birthdate showing that he's only 27, and the current incumbent for Cambodia and PKR. If I had to choose, which I do, I'd go for the younger man. At full-back, Crown will be missing their rock-solid duo of skipper Thul Sothearith and goal-threat Sun Sovannrithy for the game due to suspension, so their places will go to the experienced Chan Dara and the rookie teenager Sok Sovan. PKR will field Lay Raksmey, the current national team right-back who has a penchant for overlapping, as well as the bright prospect Moul Daravorn. For this game only, PKR have an advantage in those positions. In the middle of defence, Crown shade it with the dependable Tieng Tiny and possibly Crown's player of the year, Odion Obadin, who has hardly put a foot wrong all season. For PKR, Sok Rithy partners Tiny in the national team, and is just as consistent as his Crown counterpart, whilst Suon Thuon is his partner for Preah Khan.
Looking at the midfield options, Crown have the know-how and experience whilst PKR have opted for the vitality of youth this season and reaped the rewards with that Hun Sen Cup success, though over the longer season, it hasn't quite worked out. In San Narith (pictured), Crown have a player who has seen it all and still relishes the battle, whilst Sun Sopanha is a matchwinner, frequently providing that killer pass to teammates. Japanese import Takahito Ota hasn't quite found his consistency but chips in with goals whilst Chan Chaya, with 8 goals to his name, can win games single-handledly or frustrate in equal measure. For some fans, it's a crime he's not in the national team. I'm not one of them. With those four patrolling the middle of the park, Crown will have just a bit too much for the PKR quartet of the intelligent Tum Saray and teenagers Chea Samnang, Suon Veasna and Prak Mony Udom. The latter trio are all in the national U-19 squad and are great prospects, judging by their performances this campaign. Veasna is the pick of the three though Udom can be a slippery customer when he's on song.
Scoring goals is where PKR have fallen down this season. They lag well behind Crown in the goalscoring department, though Khuon Laboravy has 13 to his name after netting a massive 22 goals in the Hun Sen Cup competition. When he's on top form he can be electrifying but PKR rely heavily on him, and the weight of expectation has proved too heavy at times this season. But he remains a real danger. Alongside him in recent weeks is another teenage recruit, Phany Y Ratha, who has come into the team in place of the injured experienced campaigner Sam El Nasa. Opposing them are Mr Consistent, Kouch Sokumpheak, who never seems to have a bad game and can turn any match in Crown's favour in an instant, and Kingsley Njoku. This is Sokumpheak's first season in Crown colours and he's been as good as he was for Khemara for the last few years. In many eyes, including mine, he's the country's most outstanding player. He's netted 17 times for Crown this term, 11 of them in the Hun Sen Cup, and is a nailed-on certainty every time the national team plays. Alongside him in recent games is Nigerian import Njoku, who arrived from Singapore before the start of the season, netted a hat-trick in his second match but hasn't quite established himself since, scoring 8 times in total. He has the strength and skill to bamboozle defences when he's on form, though Sok Pheng also gets the nod at times, having chipped in with 7 goals this term. So there you have it, the two teams laid bare in comparison, with Crown looking likely to get the win they need to claim the championship title if the game goes according to my predictions. But championships were never won on paper, so we'll have to wait and see.
The maths are simple, even for me. Phnom Penh Crown could feasibly be crowned champions of the Metfone C-League this coming weekend, or if results don't go their way, it could all go to the last weekend of the season. On Saturday, 2nd-placed Naga face a tough opponent in the Army, and if they lose then Crown will win their second successive championship. If the result goes in Naga's favour, then Crown will have their fate in their own hands when they play Preah Khan Reach at 2pm on Sunday. A win would see Crown claim the title for the 4th time, having previously won it in 2002, 2008 and 2010. If it doesn't pan out then it will go to the wire when Crown take on Naga on Sunday 4 September. For the neutrals they'd love to see that match as the decider. For me, bugger that, I want to win the championship as quickly as possible, so I'll be cheering on the Army come Saturday afternoon. Crown will be missing two key defenders for the game against PKR on Sunday. The ridiculous disciplinary system in Cambodian football which sees a player suspended for 1 game if he gets two yellow cards, has come into play for skipper Thul Sothearith and Sun Sovannrithy, who were both booked in the last game against the Army. That means coach David Booth, on the back of seven straight wins since he took over the helm, will need to change both full-backs, whilst trying to keep stability in the rest of his line-up. The team will have had eleven days to prepare since that 1-0 win over the Army, so there won't be any complaints about game fatigue. Though they had a complaint looming yesterday, when the federation informed them that top scorer Kouch Sokumpheak would also miss the game, after receiving a booking against the Army. The fact that he wasn't booked in that game was quickly pointed out to federation officials who just as quickly rescinded their original notice to everyone's relief. The game against PKR in the first round was the opening match of the league season and ended in a 2-2 draw. The teams know each other very well and the match promises to be one of the most eagerly-awaited clashes of the campaign.