Football Tribe SEA Editor
With the halfway mark of the 2020 V.League 1 season in the horizon, Sai Gon FC continued their stranglehold over the league summit after a crushing 3-0 win over Duoc Nam Ha Nam Dinh at the Thong Nhat Stadium on Saturday night. The win ensured that the Ho Chi Minh City-based club remained as the only undefeated team in the V.League 1 this season after 10 rounds. With only three matches to go before the season’s half point, Sai Gon are looking increasingly likely to be crowned as mid-season champions before the league splits into a championship group and a relegation group for the second half of the season.
With city rivals and closest challengers Ho Chi Minh City FC losing 1-0 away at Hong Linh Ha Tinh on Friday, Sai Gon head coach/club president Vu Tien Thanh knew that a win over struggling Nam Dinh would solidify his team’s position in the V.League 1 summit for at least one more round. Brazilian striker Pedro Paulo was the only notable absence from Sai Gon’s squad on Saturday as he was suspended, which meant that Tien Thanh had to deploy Nguyen Vu Tin as a lone striker. Nonetheless, the rest of Sai Gon’s heavy hitters such as Geovane, Ahn Byung-keon, Nguyen Van Ngo, Cao Van Trien and Huynh Tan Tai were ready for action on Saturday.
And immediately Sai Gon stamped their authority over the match after the referee had blew for kick-off. 33 seconds into the game, Geovane broke into the Nam Dinh defense and flicked the ball towards his teammate in the penalty area. The ball missed said teammate, however Le Quoc Phuong arrived in the area just in time to smash the ball into Dinh Xuan Viet’s net for the opening goal.
Being down by a goal in such short notice jolted Nam Dinh into action and the strugglers soon threatened Sai Gon’s defense as they attempted to chase for an equalizer. In the 13th minute, Emmanuel Tony Agbaji headed the ball towards Pham Van Phong’s goal, only for the ball to struck a Sai Gon player by the hand. Immediately the referee blew his whistle and the Nam Dinh players thought that they were awarded a penalty…only for the referee to deny them the penalty as he was blowing for an earlier foul done by Nam Dinh’s Mai Xuan Quyet in the buildup towards Agbaji’s header. The Nam Dinh players believed none of this and they swarmed around the referee as they protested his decision, feeling that an act of injustice was done against them.
Play soon resumed again after that incident and Nam Dinh had another crack at the Sai Gon goal in the 16th minute. Thiago Papel attempted to head in a corner, however the ball bounced off the ground before being parried behind by Van Phong. A determined Nam Dinh did not give up, however, and they came close to scoring in the 22nd minute. Rafaelson played the ball towards the Sai Gon penalty area, with Do Merlo immediately engaging himself in a footrace against a Sai Gon defender towards it. Van Phong also saw the ball coming towards him and made a diving intervention, clipping the onrushing Merlo in the process. Much to the Nam Dinh players’ dismay, the referee signaled for play to continue.
35-year old Merlo, who had scored over 100 V.League 1 goals for SHB Da Nang prior to his move to Nam Dinh in the start of the 2020 season, once again threatened the Sai Gon defense in the 28th minute. Van Phong went out of his goal to intercept an incoming ball, however instead of clearing the ball immediately the goalkeeper held onto the ball for too long. Merlo easily wrestled the ball off Van Phong and fired off a shot towards the empty goal, however the ball smacked against the side netting instead.
Sai Gon may had their chances limited in the first half but once they got them, the men in pink knew how to make them count. In the 33rd minute, Tan Tai passed it short towards Geovane, who, despite being swarmed by a number of Nam Dinh defenders, fired off a cannonball from outside the penalty area that pierced Xuan Viet’s goal to make it 2-0 for the hosts.
With 2-0 being the score at half-time, Nam Dinh were faced with a mountain of a task if they wish to get something out of this game.
And shortly after the second half has started, Sai Gon pretty much ensured themselves all 3 points in the 48th minute. Geovane and substitute Nguyen Huu Son played the ball excellently amongst each other, before the latter made a surge towards the Nam Dinh goal. Huu Son then passed the ball diagonally towards an incoming Quoc Phuong, who chipped the ball over Xuan Viet’s head to complete his brace and score Sai Gon’s third of the night. 3-0 for the hosts and it seems that the men in pink have sealed up yet another win.
Being three goals to the good allowed Sai Gon to kick back and soak up the pressure from Nam Dinh, who tried in vain to chase the game. A Le Sy Minh corner was headed towards the goal by Rafaelson in the 56th minute but it was easy pickings for Van Phong, who easily smothers the ball with both hands.
Sai Gon even came close to adding a fourth goal in the 79th minute, when a close-ranged shot from Tan Tai rattled the Nam Dinh crossbar.
In the end, there was no stopping Sai Gon from clinching their fourth straight win and with the 3-0 victory, not only that Sai Gon’s 10-game unbeaten run continues, the men in pink also managed to distance themselves from the chasing pack, with a 4-point gap now opening between themselves and 2nd placed Viettel FC. Sai Gon also booked themselves a ticket to the championship group, being the first team from the top half to do so and with games against bottom side Quang Nam FC, Viettel, and Than Quang Ninh to come, Sai Gon are looking forward to wrap up the first half of the season undefeated.
Saturday’s other Round 10 action saw Da Nang’s 6-game unbeaten run coming into a crashing halt after a brace from Diego Fagan ensured a 2-1 victory for Quang Ninh at the Hoa Xuan Stadium, while Viettel made the most out of Ho Chi Minh City’s defeat at Ha Tinh by beating Song Lam Nghe An 2-1 at the Vinh Stadium, a result that secured 2nd place for the Red Tornado. Last but not least a goal from Hoang Vu Samson ensured a 1-0 victory for Thanh Hoa FC at Becamex Binh Duong’s Go Dau Stadium.
Sai Gon and Viettel made up the league’s top two after Round 10, with Ho Chi Minh City slipping into 3rd. Hoang Anh Gia Lai rounded off the top four, ousting Quang Ninh by the virtue of goal difference. Quang Nam remained rooted to the foot of the table with Hai Phong FC in 13th place, with the bottom three rounded off by Nam Dinh.