Friday, September 18, 2009

Nail-biting week ahead

Khemara striker Kuoch Sokumpheak - vital to both club and country
We're just over a week away from the climax of the Cambodian football season and what a finish we have in store. We have the play-off final a week tomorrow - Saturday 26th - between the two underdogs Naga Corp and Khemara Keila, who beat their more fancied opponents last Saturday in the semi-finals. The winners of this game will win the Super 4 play-off and be ranked in top spot of the Cambodian Premier League. The 3rd place play-off will be between the big-guns Phnom Penh Crown and Preah Khan Reach, so Saturday will be great way to pull the curtain down on the CPL campaign. I expect a big crowd. Following hot on the heels of these two games will be Sunday's match at the Olympic Stadium between the Cambodian U-23 national team and their Singapore U-23 counterparts, kick-off at 3.30pm and a good test for Scott O'Donell's youngsters before they begin their SEA Games preparation in earnest. Singapore are one of the best prepared countries in Asia, their U-23 team play as Singapore Lions in their national league, so will be a big challenge for O'Donell's fledgling squad. The Cambodian squad have played a couple of practise matches so far but this will be a severe test for them. A new appointment as national team manager is Vy Piseth, who will form the link between the team and the federation though he's not part of the technical team that will coach the U-23s before and in Laos for the SEA Games. I hope to get out to see the U-23s in their run-up to Sunday's clash.
Back to that Super 4 CPL play-off final. Let's have a look at the strong and weak points of the finalists, starting with Naga. As we saw in the semi-final last week, if Sunday Okonkwo plays as well as he did against Crown, then he could be a key factor in the game, alongwith his tireless fellow Nigerian midfielders Friday Nwakuna and Yemi Oyewole. These three could be the difference, though Khemara have their own African threesome who could do exactly the same. Meas Channa on the right wing will cause anyone problems on his day, as will attacking full-back Sun Sovannarith whilst skipper Om Thavrak is a commanding figure at the back. A weak link for me is diminuative goalkeeper Chhorm Veasna. In the Khemara line-up, they have the country's best home-grown talent in Kuoch Sokumpheak, and this man can win games single-handedly, and frequently does. If his partnership up front with Nelson Olatunde or is it Nelson Oladiji (I've never been sure) clicks into gear then Khemara will win. Joel Omoraka has been dominant alongside Chan Dara since he joined Keila a few months ago and if they can snuff out the Naga threat, that will be significant. Khemara have a soft midfield quartet for me but Sokumpheak more than makes up for it and if anyone can win this game, he can. Incidentally, he will also be a key figure for the Cambodian U-23s the following day, so lets hope he can shrug off his recent injury worries. His presence in both matches is vital.

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