Defending champions Phnom Penh Crown FC
The Metfone Cambodian League gets underway today (Friday) with reigning champions Phnom Penh Crown FC getting proceedings underway with a 6 pm faceoff against 2015 playoff semi-finalist Cambodian Tiger FC at RSN Stadium.
This season’s games will be played on Fridays, Saturdays and Sunday to allow extended coverage by Bayon TV. A total of 90 matches are set to be played over 18 weeks of competition in a two-legged season. Leg 1 of the season will draw to a close on May 22 before resuming for the second leg on June 10. With the FFC dispensing with last year’s playoff format, the final round of games are pencilled in for the weekend beginning August 19. Both Build Bright United FC and Kirivong Sok Sen Chey withdrew from this season’s competition citing financial difficulties, leaving just 10 remaining teams to take part.
National Police FC tackles Ministry of National Defense FC and their new-look side in the season’s first game at National Olympic Stadium on Saturday afternoon, before 2015 playoff finalists NagaWorld meet Western FC in their opening fixture. Boeung Ket Angkor faces Asia Europe United FC in Sunday evening’s highlight.
In a busy season, clubs will also be competing in the 2016 Hun Sen Cup 2016, games for which will take place midweek between May and August, with MCL sides grouped with provincial qualifiers. Svay Rieng FC are the current champions having defeated NagaWorld in last season’s iteration.
Crown Reveal New Playing Kit, Signings
Phnom Penh Crown became back-to-back champions in December after rallying from a humiliating 4-2 final day of regular season defeat to Boeung Ket Angkor to triumph in the playoffs. Then helmed by Sam Schweingruber – who is now General Manager – Crown first overcame Cambodian Tiger in the playoff semi before despatching NagaWorld in the final via a penalty shootout to notch up their sixth league title – a feature which is represented by six stars above the crest on the clubs’ new playing kits, which were revealed in a press conference at RSN Stadium on Thursday. Crowns new playing kits all feature the Smart Axiata logo emblazoned on the front, after the club signed up Smart as a key sponsorship partner. Thomas Hundt, Chief Executive Officer of Smart said: “As the exclusive Telco partner of the club, we are looking forward to the kick off of the new season where the players will carry the Smart logo on the front of their new outstanding jerseys. While the home kit is in the clubs primary colors red & white, the away kit will be in Smart’s brand color green. I hope the partnership can be our messenger to encourage more people to play football as a sporting leisure pursuit as well as a platform to chase their dreams to be sports professionals.”
Crown also took the time to parade their four new signings – George Kelechi, Anthony Aymard, Neou Thierry and Abel Yebenes as well as 12 academy players who will this season attempt the step up into the first team and perhaps help the club garner a third straight league title.
Crown’s opening day challengers have made no less six personnel changes after a slew of its high profile stars made exits for C-League rivals. Joining Tiger’s 2015 top scorer, Privat Mbarga, who announced his departure for NagaWorld FC, through the exit door is highly-rated Cambodian forward Sok Chanraksmey. A source at the club confirming the youngster had been snapped up on a one-year contract by Ministry of National Defense FC. The 24-year old former-Preah Khan Reach Svay Rieng FC prospect is perhaps best known for the trio of goals he bagged for the Kingdom in their 3-2 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup qualification win against Timor-Leste. His impact at his new club has been immediate as he notched up a brace of goals in Monday’s 3-2 friendly match loss to former club Svay Rieng.
The club also announced the departure of much-loved Japanese goalkeeper Yasuyuki Yoshida who decided to return to his home country to turn out for fourth-tier side Rein Meer Aomori FC. The 33-year old began the Cambodian chapter of his career at National Police in 2013 before switching to now defunct C-League club Albirex Niigata Phnom Penh FC in 2015. He swiftly joined Tiger ahead of the 2015 season helping the club to a top four finish. Tiger have drafted in accomplished former Crown and NagaWorld custodian Samrith Seiha to fill the veritable void left by Yoshida.
Other players in the door for Tiger include AEU midfielder Hou Sambo, former Western striker Sadakuni Tomoyuki from Western FC and Muramatsu Tomoki from J-League club Kataller Toyama.
NagaWorld meanwhile raided Phnom Penh Crown signing up 4 former players – Ngoy Srin, Sos Suhana, Yok Ary and Sary Matnorotin. All four were implicated in a match-fixing furore which was uncovered at the tail-end of the 2015 season. Crown had suspended seven of their squad members for alleged collusion to oust former head coach Sam Schweingruber, with a further four members of coaching staff also implicated. The clubs’ youth coach Bouy Davy was recently handed a two-year ban by the Football Federation of Cambodia, while three other officials received one-year bans each. A bitter pill for Crown to swallow after all seven censured players were exonerated by the Federation, despite the clubs’ appeals, paving the way for them to sign for their C-League rivals. The former Crown men join up with Naga’s previously announced 2016 season signings; Mbarga, Richard Omokafe, Anderson Zogbe, Tum Saray and Sok Pheng.