Phnom Penh Crown regained the title of champions of Cambodia for the first time in three years after a tense 1-0 victory over Nagacorp at Olympic Stadium on Saturday.
Crown went into the game needing just three points from their final three games to win the Metfone Cambodian League and managed to seal the deal with a header from captain Kouch Sokumpheak just after the break.
In many ways the game was indicative of Crown’s season: organized, defensively solid, not entirely beautiful but ultimately victorious.
“There’s 209 [FIFA] countries in the world and we are champions of one of those 209 countries and so I’m extremely proud of what we, as a team—the players, the coaches, the staff, the fans— have achieved,” said head coach Sam Schweingruber yesterday.
“If you win the league with two games to go, I don’t think there’s any doubt throughout the season. We had the best defense and we certainly had the best attack,” he added.
In a relatively even first half, it was Crown who came closest to scoring through George Bisan, who has netted 19 times this season, and a Kok Boris header against the crossbar.
It wasn’t until the 53rd minute that Crown took the lead as Sokumpheak was left free through some poor marking to head Adriano Pellegrino’s inch-perfect cross into the back of the net.
Pellegrino’s assists are something C-League fans have become accustomed to since he signed with Crown in May and yesterday he spoke of his delight at adding a Cambodian title to the domestic titles he won for Central Coast Mariners in Australia.
“No matter what you’ve achieved and where you’ve played, winning a championship is winning a championship and it’s not something that happens every day,” Pellegrino said yesterday from Sihanoukville where the team is celebrating their title win.
“Winning a championship in Australia and winning a championship here was a very similar feeling. Even though it’s not as big of a league it was very, very rewarding and it’s something I’ll treasure forever,” he added.
The Australian playmaker added that he hopes to stay in Cambodia for at least another season.
Despite occasional slip ups, notably against rivals and probable runners up Boeung Ket in February, Crown have stayed at the summit of the C-League for the vast majority of the season and have won all eight of their second round matches.
Despite speculation over whether Schweingruber will continue in his role next season, he said yesterday he hopes to stay and continue his project.
“I hope that I’ll still be around—I’ve coached this season without having a contract. I love the club, I love the vision, I believe in what we are trying to do and I love football so I feel very privileged to have been a part of it,” the Swiss coach said.
“Next season I hope that I will be here, but the decision hasn’t been made yet. We have talks coming up soon…we will see what happens.”