The 2020 V.League 1 season made it’s long-awaited return on Saturday, with the commencement of games comprising Round 12. With the halfway point of the season in sights, all eyes were set at the Hang Day Stadium in Hanoi, where undefeated league leaders Sai Gon FC made the trip up from Ho Chi Minh City to take on 2nd placed Viettel FC. With the league splitting into two in the season’s halfway mark, Sai Gon have sealed a spot in the V.League 1’s championship group and are looking to finish the entire first half of the season without any defeats. However, much to the men in pink’s horror, Viettel managed to sink Sai Gon thanks to a last-minute goal from Vu Minh Tuan, putting an end to any Sai Gon hopes of finishing the first half of the season undefeated.
Just like with their Vietnamese National Cup exit at the hands of Ba Ria-Vung Tau, it seems that the lengthy suspension had taken the winds out of Sai Gon’s sails and the men in pink received a chastening blow in the first half after their danger man Pedro Paulo was hauled off from the field due to an injury, with Nguyen Vu Tin replacing the former Lampang FC player in the 33rd minute.
The first half itself was a cagey affair, with both teams carving out a number of chances. Former Bali United defender Ahn Byung-keon forced a fingertip save from Viettel goalie Tran Nguyen Manh in the 6th minute, while Bruno Cantanhede almost opened the scoring for the Red Tornado in 35th minute with a bullet of a header, only for his ball to smack the Sai Gon goalpost. Ho Khac Ngoc was quite anonymous for Viettel in the match, due to the Sai Gon players locking him down and limiting his ball supply to his teammates. Whenever Khac Ngoc had the ball, two Sai Gon players would show up to barricade him, leaving him unable to send long ball forwards to his teammates.
The second half saw more of the same, with Sai Gon club president/head coach Vu Tien Thanh introducing Vo Nguyen Hoang during half-time to enhance his team’s attacking power. The 18-year old Vietnam U-19 international made his Sai Gon debut in this match, replacing Le Quoc Phuong. Nguyen Hoang was recommended to Tien Thanh by Vietnam U-19 head coach Philippe Troussier and Tien Thanh was quite impressed with the young striker’s work rate in his post-match press conference, stating that he “played very well for an 18-year old.”
With the second half ticking away and still no goals being scored by either team, both Tien Thanh and his Viettel counterpart Truong Viet Hoang decided to introduce some fresh legs into the pitch. Viet Hoang replaced Khac Ngoc with former Than Quang Ninh player Minh Tuan, while Tien Thanh replaced captain Nguyen Quoc Long with Nguyen Huu Son. And it was Minh Tuan that proved to be the decider in this match – deep into injury time with time running out, Que Ngoc Hai thumped the ball long into the Sai Gon defense. Minh Tuan managed to outpace both Byung-keon and Than Thanh Tin and latched himself onto the ball, before firing a quickly-taken shot that went through the legs of Sai Gon goalie Pham Van Phong and into the net. 1-0 Viettel and the referee blew for full-time shortly afterwards, confirming Sai Gon’s first league defeat of the season.
The win meant that Viettel will join Sai Gon in the championship group once the split happens and the two were joined by a number of other teams. 3rd placed Ho Chi Minh City FC are through to the championship group after battering Duoc Nam Ha Nam Dinh 5-1 at the Thong Nhat Stadium, with Nguyen Cong Phuong scoring a brace, former Bangkok Glass and PTT Rayong man Ariel Rodriguez scoring in his league debut, and former Sanna Khanh Hoa BVN winger Lam Ti Phong getting a goal in his league debut as a Ho Chi Minh City player as well.
Newly crowned Vietnamese National Cup champions Hanoi FC were forced to a 2-2 draw away at last-placed Quang Nam FC while Quang Ninh were also held to a 2-2 draw at home by Becamex Binh Duong, however the solitary points were enough for the duo to confirm their places in the championship group.
Both Quang Nam and Nam Dinh confirmed their places in the relegation group, and they were joined by Hai Phong FC, who were beaten 1-0 away at SHB Da Nang.
Rounding up all the action from Round 12 were Song Lam Nghe An beating Hoang Anh Gia Lai 2-0 at the Vinh Stadium and Thanh Hoa FC succumbing to a 2-1 home defeat at the hands of Hong Linh Ha Tinh.