Boeung Ket aims to retain title
A full 231,840 minutes, 3,864 hours and 161 days after the curtain came down on the 2016 season, the new Metfone C-League season will kick-off on Saturday, with a new 12-team competition fighting it out for Cambodian football’s top prize.
Boeung Ket Angkor FC snatched a 2-1 win over National Police Commissary FC in the climax of the 2016 season to push resurgent Ministry of National Defense FC into second-place and remain among the favorites to repeat the feat this season.
However, Boeung Ket is not the same team as they were in their title-winning season. While the headlines were stolen by the departure of 30-plus goal a season striker Chan Vathanaka to Japan, Samuel Gbenga Ajayi and Yuya Wada were both seen to be dispensable and have parted company with the Rubbermen. Hong Pheng, their wily defensive rock, continues to be plagued by injury, while the inconsistent Khuon Laboravy may be one the club’s few outlets for goals.
In an effort to soften the blow of Vathanaka’s departure, his former employers wasted no time in bringing in a replacement, announcing they had agreed to terms with Brazilian forward Maycon Rogerio Calijuri.
The Brazilian said he looked forward to repaying the faith placed in him by his new club.
“I am very happy to sign with the best club in Cambodia and I hope to do my best to ensure we have a positive season. Many thanks to the club for trusting me. For all the fans I hope I can give all of you a lot of happiness with great results,” he said.
The 30-year-old comes to the club via Indonesian club side Persiba Balikpapan, and before time in Thailand and the United Arab Emirates he had a successful spell in Europe at Bate Borisov in 2012.
A further cause for optimism for Boeung Ket fans came after a 3-0 thrashing of 2016 Hun Sen Cup winners Ministry of National Defense FC in last Sunday’s very first CNCC Charity Cup final.
Despite losing the striking talents of recently transferred Dzarma Bata, Gbenga Ajayi and Vathanaka, Boeung Ket had no trouble finding the back of the net as they drilled home three unanswered strikes in the first half to cap a handsome win at the National Olympic Stadium.
Nevertheless, the Cup win, as well as their successful navigation of the AFC qualifiers against Lao Toyota FC, show signs of a revival after a poor showing in both the BTV Cup and the Toyota Mekong Club Championship late last year that led to the dismissal of C-League winning coach Sovannara. The club felt it necessary to bring in an experienced head to steer the Boeung Ket ship and appointed British-Australian coach John McGlynn for his second stint at the helm of the two-time champs.
After time in Australia, where he played as a professional and earned a slew of coaching badges, McGlynn returned to the kingdom in 2012 and was a key figure of the coaching staff for Phnom Penh Crown – helping the side to a league win in the 2013/14 season. He then took the top job at rival Boeung Ket in October 2014, taking over for the outgoing Prak Vuthy, was swiftly bundled out following a heavy 3-0 loss to NagaWorld in the 2015 Hun Sen Cup, a mere five months into the job.
For Boueng Ket’s rivals at least, they will be buoyed by the knowledge that the champions may be over-burdened as they will be competing in the AFC group stage in addition to the C-League and Hun Sen Cup. With a busy schedule awaiting the defending champs, Ministry, Crown and others may hope to capitalize in the event Boeung Ket take their eye off the C-League ball.
Ministry of National Defense FC will continue to rely on their Korean core of Ry Hyok-chol, Jang Song-hyok, Kim Kyong-hun and Choe Myong-ho who almost took them to the brink of the C-League title last season – although they have also added the firepower of Brazilian import Leandro Duarte.
Perhaps taking their cue from the Army side, NagaWorld also snapped up a Brazilian – Diego Gama de Oliveira.
Speaking on NagaWorld’s official Facebook channel at the tail end of last season, the club’s assistant coach Olapeter Olajide said he hoped for improvement this time around.
“Right from the first round [of last season] the form was fair, they were not really at their best due to some new players and a new system. This takes time to adapt. The second round of games there was an improvement,” he said.
Meanwhile, title challengers Phnom Penh Crown have suffered a less than stellar recent history and will be eager to reclaim their place at the top of the C-League pile. Crown, winners of the C-League in 2014 and 2015, suffered a poor 2016 campaign finishing fifth in the league standings – although missing the talents of injured wing wizard Shane Booysen, the club was always unlikely to retain their 2015 title. However, the South African is back in contention after a long recovery from an ACL injury and was in emphatic form in the recent home leg of Crown’s failed AFC group stage bid against Home United of Singapore. Booysen was unstoppable as he played a role in all of his teams’ goals and capped his performance with a superb free-kick in the dying seconds of the match. Fans of the club know that if Crown is to challenge for honors this season, The ‘Booyse’ will be vital.
The club, now coached by Ukrainian Oleg Starynskyi continues to attempt to bolster their young squad after the departures of Japanese duo Futa Nakamura and Chiharu Kosuge and Ukrainian attacking midfielder Volodymyr Ordynskyi who were all released in recent days after their short-term contracts came to an end. A shakeup in the close-season also saw Thierry Chantha Bin and Leng Makara make an exit from RSN Stadium. The club’s attempt at chasing a seventh C-League title may come down to whom they can find to fulfill the foreign player quota and perhaps bring an experienced head to a young side.
Crown plays their season opener on Sunday in an afternoon meeting with Asia Euro United at Army Stadium in the Cambodian capital.
AEU is undergoing a shift, making some big moves in the transfer market. The club, which finished last season at the bottom of the league, has signed hotshot African striker George Bisan, formerly of Boeung Ket Angkor and Phnom Penh Crown. Tomohiro Masaki and Ajayi are also on the teams’ books as they look to improve on the solitary win they gleaned in last season’s dire campaign.
Outside of the capital, Cambodian Tiger FC, now based out of their very own Siem Reap Stadium, gets the 2017 season underway in a Saturday afternoon clash against CMAC FC and will hope their decision to acquire former C-League Golden Boot winner Dzarma Bata will reap rewards.
The Japanese-owned side recently rung the changes from the top down, appointing Japanese coach Kenichi Yatsuhashi as new head coach and adding former Preah Khan Svay Rieng FC and Boeung Ket Angkor FC striker Bata to their roster.
Yatsuhashi, a former Ghanaian Premier League coach, arrives at Tiger after a stint with Nigerian Premier League side Ifeanyi Ubah.
“I would like to contribute to a club that is rapidly progressing as a head coach/manager,” he said after the announcement last week.
“I would like to achieve here with Cambodia Tiger FC what I could not achieve with Hearts of Oak [of the Ghanaian Premier League],” he added.
Yatsuhashi holds a slew of internationally recognized coaching licenses including a FIFA and FIFA/AFC Grassroots Certificate.
Bata joins fellow Africans Timothy Okereke, Abdul Alade and Japanese duo Yugo Kawabata and Masahiro Fukasawa as Tiger’s quota of five foreign imports.
Bata, speaking last week after the move was confirmed, was optimistic for the impending season.
“New coach, new players, all things are new for me. This season I need to work hard to help the team,” he said.
His new employers will hope Bata can rediscover his form of 2014, in which he hit 23 goals to claim the C-League Golden Boot award for top scorer. Tiger had a middling 2016 and finished the season mid-table in sixth position. Their 2015 had in contrast been more successful as they made a charge to the semifinal of the C-League playoffs only to be stopped by eventual champions Phnom Penh Crown.
Lower down the league, Kirivong Sok Sen Chey FC makes their long-awaited return to the top flight after gaining promotion by capturing the inaugural Cambodian League second division title in December.
Kirivong exited the top tier of Cambodian football prior to the start of the 2016 season along with Build Bright United FC. Both clubs cited financial difficulties and withdrew from the league only to find themselves back in competitive action upon the inauguration of the second division late last year. Their last appearance in the C-League saw them finish bottom of the table on 12th position with a mere three wins from 22 league games.
However, coach Phan Chan Phath told reporters that the team will not be pushovers as they make their C-League return.
“We are ready for play next season, but what we need to do first is look for foreign players to help us create a stronger team.
Whether from abroad or on loan from other clubs here in Cambodia, what we need is to bolster our team to ensure we do not suffer relegation next season.”
They will be joined in C-League division 1 by Électricité du Cambodge (EDC FC), which finished as runners-up by virtue of goal difference and who will open their 2017 campaign on Saturday evening with a staunch test against former playoff finalist NagaWorld FC.
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