Phnom Penh Crown vs Home United: Protectors seek return to AFC Cup
Home’s bid to reach the AFC Cup for the eighth time in their history.
Phnom Penh Crown Form
- Svay Rieng 3-2 PPC (C-League)
- Asia Europe University 0-4 PPC (C-League)
- PPC 3-1 Western Phnom Penh (C-League)
- Boeung Ket 3-2 PPC (C-League)
- United CMAC 0-4 PPC (C-League)
Home United Form
- Geylang International 4-1 Home (S.League)
- Home 3-1 Albirex Niigata (S) (S.League)
- Balestier Khalsa 0-5 Home (S.League)
- Home 5-2 Garena Young Lions (S.League)
- Brunei DPMM 3-1 Home (S.League)
Home have reached the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup, the second-tier club competition in this region, seven times in their history – the most appearances by any S.League club, ahead of derby rivals Warriors FC (four).
However, the last time the Protectors reached the competition was back in 2014, where they failed to make it out of the group stages under South Korean coach Lee Lim-Saeng.
Finishing as the second-highest local club in the S.League last season gives them a chance to reach the tournament proper again, but firstly they will need to navigate past a two-legged playoff against Cambodia’s Phnom Penh Crown (PPC).
This is actually the first year a Cambodian club is competing in the AFC Cup, due to AFC’s decision to change the competition format and allow more teams from developing nations to participate.
They previously featured in the now-defunct third-tier club competition AFC President’s Cup four times.
The winner of this two-legged playoff will go straight into Group H, along with Myanmar’s Yadanarbon and Vietnam’s Than Quang Ninh.
Laos’ Lanexang United are supposed to be in the group as well, but they have since pulled out due to the collapse of their domestic league. AFC have yet to make a decision on who replaces them.
Both Home and PPC are deep into the preparations for their respective domestic leagues which kick off in February.
Home went on a three-match tour of Thailand where they suffered 3-0 losses to Pattaya United and Muangthong United respectively, while drawing 1-1 against Royal Thai Navy.
On the other hand, PPC played a number of friendlies at home against both local and overseas sides – including a 6-0 humbling by Thai giants Buriram United.
Home have made a number of shrewd acquisitions in the off-season, bringing in Singapore no. 1 Hassan Sunny, national team regulars Izzdin Shafiq and Afiq Yunos, as well as Garena Young Lions duo Adam Swandi and Christopher van Huizen.
However, Afiq is a doubt for this game due to an ankle injury. There could be problems at the back for the Protectors, with Sufianto Salleh and Haziq Azman also on the treatment table.
Similarly, PPC went on a shopping spree as they secured new foreign signings in the form of Futa Nakamura, Chiharu Kosuge (both Japanese) and Voldoymyr Ordynskyi (Ukrainian).
While they lost key midfielder Thierry Chantha Bin to Thai League 2 side Krabi FC, they managed to retain the services of forward Keo Sok Pheng – who played for Cambodia in last November’s Suzuki Cup.
Key Battle: Anthony Aymard vs Stipe Plazibat
It was a big blow for Home to lose Danish forward Ken Ilso – who scored 30 goals in 41 league matches over the last two seasons, but at least they have gotten a more-than-decent replacement in the form of Plazibat.
The Croatian hit man scored 15 times in his debut S.League season with Hougang United and the Protectors faithful will hope that he can replicate that form in the red kit of Home.
Looking to stop him in his tracks is former S.League defender Aymard. The French centre-back played four seasons in Singapore, making his debut in 2011 with Etoile before spending the next three years with Tanjong Pagar United.
Interestingly, his first S.League goal came against Home in the 2012 season, via a 50-yard free kick that looped over Nazri Sabri. However, Aymard is a doubt as he is nursing an injury.
This will be Aidil Sharin’s first full season in charge of Home, after he took over in July 2016 and presided over five wins in their last eight games of the season.
The 39-year-old, younger brother of former Singapore captain Aide Iskandar, was the club’s assistant technical director prior to that and assistant coach from 2011 to 2015.
Meanwhile PPC have a new man at the helm in Oleg Starynskyi.
The 31-year-old Ukrainian was in charge of the Malaysia Under-16s from July 2015 to January 2016 and had coached the club’s Under-19s for eight months before being promoted to head coach in October 2016.
He is also currently the assistant coach for the Cambodian Under-19s.
Facts and Figures
Despite having featured in the Singapore Cup for six seasons between 2007 and 2012, this is the first time PPC are facing Home.
PPC’s best-ever Singapore Cup finish came in 2009, where they were edged out 5-4 on aggregate by Thailand’s Bangkok Glass in the quarter-finals.
PPC’s Sok Pheng will come up against Home’s Hassan, Juma’at Jantan, Izzdin and Faris Ramli – two and a half months after facing them in international colours as Cambodia lost 1-0 to Singapore in a pre-Suzuki Cup friendly.
Home will start off as favourites, but PPC are certainly no pushovers. This could end as a 1-1 draw, leaving all to play for in the second leg in Singapore.
Photos: Home United