Cambodia’s Phnom Penh Empire football club were moments away from a shock result at the RHB Singapore Cup on Tuesday night, falling only in the last two minutes to Singapore’s Senkang Punggol, a richer team fielding foreign players.
Scoring three goals in the first 46 minutes of the preliminary round fixture, the long-odds Cambodian side stunned the Singaporean hosts at Hougang stadium by leading for two thirds of the match.
“I think they’re setting an example for all the other clubs in Cambodia,” Cambodian national team coach Scott O’Donell said of Empire on Wednesday. “To be honest with you, I think they’ll be disappointed having led…that they didn’t hang on for the win.”
The semi-professional Empire, who are set to compete Saturday with Phnom Penh’s Khemara for a place in the Hun Sen Cup finals on May 12, took the lead in the 20th minute with a goal from midfielder Chan Rithy, according to a match report from the Singaporean Football Association.
After New Zealand forward Ross McKenzie equalized for the Singapore side with a header in the 39th minute, Empire striker Hok Sochivorn put his side ahead with a goal at the 40th minute before scoring again six minutes later for a 3-1 lead.
Goals from Sengkang Punggol forwards Jonathon Angelluci and Paul Bekombo Ekollo in the 49th and 64th minutes put the two sides even.
However, Empire held the home side to a draw for nearly half an hour until Angelucci scored again with stoppage time looming in the 88th minute.
Players for Empire, which bowed out of last year’s competition after an 8-1 thrashing from Singapore Armed Forces FC, will have benefited from the international exposure of the match, according to O’Donell, who said recruiters from clubs in Malaysia and Indonesia’s lower divisions may have been watching.
“They really showed a professional side to Cambodian club football,” he said.