Football Tribe SEA Editor
Sai Gon FC emerged victorious on Friday night’s Ho Chi Minh Derby as they inflicted Ho Chi Minh City FC’s first defeat of the season with a well-fought 1-0 win at the Thong Nhat Stadium. The relatively young club managed to survive a tense encounter against their more-established counterparts and walked away with not only 3 points, but also the bragging rights of being the number one team in Ho Chi Minh City.
The two Ho Chi Minh City clubs enter Friday’s derby on the back of excellent performances in the 2020 V.League 1. Ho Chi Minh City were the early pacesetters of the league, with two wins and one draw, while Sai Gon were on decent form as well. Despite being knocked out of the 2020 Vietnamese National Cup by second-tier side Ba Ria-Vung Tau, Sai Gon were also undefeated in the league, with one win and two draws. This meant that Friday’s derby was more exciting as ever, with the two sides trying their best to solidify their position in the V.League 1’s top half.
Acting as the hosts for Friday’s encounter, Ho Chi Minh City immediately assumed the lion’s share of the possession, with Jung Hae-seong’s men having 59% of the ball. However, the Red Battleship were unable to carve out any meaningful chances as Sai Gon flew straight out of the traps right away after kick-off with their blistering offensive pace. The men in pink looked dangerous throughout the first 45, with the likes of Geovane and Pedro Paulo threatening Nguyen Thanh Thang’s goal. The match’s atmosphere became more and more tense as time went on, leading to the referee brandishing a yellow card for Ho Chi Minh City head coach Hae-seong due to the South Korean’s overreactive protests towards a Sai Gon player’s challenge on Nguyen Cong Phuong.
The first half ended goalless, with neither team taking any advantage over the other.
The second half started in similar fashion with the first half, with the two Ho Chi Minh City clubs trading attack after attack. A brilliant header by Ho Chi Minh City’s Nguyen Huu Tuan went agonizingly wide early into the second half, while a 50th minute chance from Sai Gon’s Geovane was smothered by Thanh Thang. Two minutes after Geovane’s chance, Ho Chi Minh City almost broke the deadlock through their South Korean midfielder Seo Yong-duk, only for his shot to go narrowly wide.
In the 66th minute, Sai Gon were awarded a corner. Nguyen Van Ngo sent the corner straight into Ho Chi Minh City’s penalty area, where Pedro climbed over his defenders and headed in the opening goal for his side. 1-0 for Sai Gon and Pedro immediately responded to his goal by briefly taking a knee – a tribute to the late George Floyd and the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement.
The goal spurred Sai Gon into action and they tried their best to get themselves a second goal, not content in being a goal up. Ho Chi Minh City were also stung by that goal and tried their hardest to get an equalizer, only for their own wastefulness and Pham Van Phong’s prowess between the sticks for Sai Gon denying the Red Battleship their much-needed goal.
There were a couple sour notes for Sai Gon during the closing stages of the match, after captain Nguyen Quoc Long was sent off after a harsh foul on Ho Chi Minh City’s Pape Diakite, before shortly afterwards Ngo Xuan Toan was stretched off with an injury, forcing Sai Gon to play the last few seconds of the match with 9 men. However, the men in pink held on for a very important 1-0 win over their city rivals, much to the delight of their fledging fanbase.
Meanwhile, the earlier kick-off saw newly promoted Hong Linh Ha Tinh taking on defending champions Hanoi FC at the Ha Tinh Stadium. The presence of what arguably is the best team in Vietnam at the moment attracted a significant amount of attention to the Ha Tinh Stadium, with the stadium being packed by spectators despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic forcing V.League clubs to limit the amount of supporters within their stadiums.
This meant that a huge amount of people was present around the stadium even after the stands were fully packed, forcing the police to allow groups of people to sit around the stadium’s running track. Crowds of people were spilling out of terraces and some were climbing through the stadium’s gates, however thankfully they remained calm and in order, enjoying the match enthusiastically alongside the spectators in the stands. The overcrowding forced a number of pauses in the first half though, leading to a stoppage time amounting to 22 minutes.
The match itself was a pulsating and exciting one – Hanoi as expected took control of the encounter, however Ha Tinh showed no fear against their star-studded opponents. With their boisterous supporters cheering them on, Ha Tinh fought valiantly and despite going behind in the 66th minute thanks to a Do Hung Dung screamer, Ha Tinh refused to throw in the towel and kept fighting. This culminated in the 86th minute, when a Le Tan Tai corner was headed into Hanoi’s goal by Pham Tuan Hai, drawing the score level and sending the packed Ha Tinh Stadium into pandemonium. The match ended 1-1, with a plucky performance from Ha Tinh earning themselves an important result and point against heavy favorites Hanoi.
Friday’s other matches saw hosts Thanh Hoa FC forcing rivals Song Lam Nghe An to a goalless draw in Nguyen Thanh Cong’s first match as Thanh Hoa head coach, halting his team’s 3-match losing streak but extending their winless run to 4 matches. Last but not least, a Chevaughn Walsh goal in the 60th minute was exactly what Hoang Anh Gia Lai needed as they eke out a 1-0 home win over Duoc Nam Ha Nam Dinh.
With the fourth round of the 2020 V.League 1 done and dusted, three teams are now occupying top spot in the league – Sai Gon were crowned as the new leaders by virtue of goal difference, with Viettel FC and SLNA tailing behind the men in pink. Winless Thanh Hoa remained rooted to the bottom of the table with a solitary point, with Nam Dinh sitting above them with 3 points.