The second half of the 2020 V.League 1 season kicked-off on Friday night with the opening two matches of the championship group. League leaders Sai Gon host 8th placed Hong Linh Ha Tinh at the Thong Nhat Stadium in Ho Chi Minh City, while in Hanoi 2nd placed Viettel FC host 7th placed Hoang Anh Gia Lai at the Hang Day Stadium. Both home teams won their respective games, with Viettel battering HAGL 4-1 and Sai Gon managing a 2-1 victory over Ha Tinh.
Ha Tinh’s Nguyen Van Duc carved out the first chance of the game with a shot that rattled the Sai Gon crossbar in the 15th minute, however it was the men in pink who drew first blood three minutes later. Sai Gon were awarded a penalty after Geovane was fouled inside the box by Janclesio, however captain Nguyen Quoc Long saw his penalty being saved by Ha Tinh goalkeeper Duong Quang Tuan. Thankfully for Vu Tien Thanh’s men, Ahn Byung-keon was quick to react, with the former Bali United fan-favorite smashing home the incoming rebound with a venomous strike to open the scoreline.
Sai Gon then doubled their lead in the 21st minute, after Geovane took advantage of a Nguyen Van Ngo long ball to beat Quang Tuan with a skillful combination of a chip to deceive Quang Tuan and a header that went straight to Ha Tinh’s unguarded goal.
Ha Tinh could only get themselves some degree of consolation late into the match, with Bruno Henrique scoring an 85th minute penalty for the away side. The penalty was given after Nguyen Vu Tin had fouled Pham Tuan Hai inside the Sai Gon penalty box and the spot kick had to be taken twice after Sai Gon goalkeeper Pham Van Phong was adjudged to have moved off his line too early in the first attempt. Van Phong managed to save Bruno’s first attempt, however lightning did not strike twice at the same spot and he conceded Bruno’s second penalty.
Meanwhile at the Hang Day Stadium, Viettel managed to keep pressure on league leaders Sai Gon after they had put HAGL to the sword in their own match. HAGL qualified to the championship group on the back of their ruthless home form that saw them turn the Pleiku Stadium into a virtual fortress, however they have yet to win a game on the road, with the Viettel defeat forcing HAGL to wait a little bit longer for their maiden away win.
Both Viettel and HAGL played out a dramatic 3-3 draw at the Hang Day in the first half of the season, with HAGL nicking a point off the Red Tornado with virtually the last kick of the game. The same could not be said for Friday night’s match though, as it was pretty much all over after just an hour. HAGL goalkeeper Tran Buu Ngoc was the villain of this piece as his mistakes allowed Viettel to smash four goals past him and clinch all three points at the end of the day.
The Red Tornado drew first blood in the 10th minute through Ho Khac Ngoc. Midfielder Khac Ngoc approached the HAGL defense from the left flank and fired an audacious curling shot from outside the area. HAGL’s Chevaughn Walsh attempted to head the ball away, however he mistimed his jump and the ball went above his head, rushing straight towards Buu Ngoc. Unfortunately for HAGL, Buu Ngoc was unable to react in time and he allowed the ball to pierce through his net, giving Viettel the lead.
Buu Ngoc then made a fatal error in the 30th minute, unable to hold onto Khac Ngoc’s free-kick properly and fumbling the ball out of his hands. Bruno Cantanhede seized this opportunity and claimed the ball into his possession, firing home a scrappy, close-ranged shot that doubled Viettel’s advantage.
Six minutes after Viettel’s goal, HAGL managed to find a lifeline for themselves. Former Incheon United, Gangwon FC, and Buriram United loanee Luong Xuan Truong made quick work of his free-kick, passing the ball towards Vu Van Thanh who slotted home a shot that left Viettel goalie Tran Nguyen Manh utterly beaten. With the scoreline at 2-1, HAGL had some glimmer of hope that they could turn the encounter around to their advantage.
Viettel wouldn’t have any of that though and the Red Tornado restored their two goal cushion in the 58th minute. Receiving a long ball from Que Ngoc Hai, former Chiangmai FC striker Caique Lemes unleashed a powerful shot that breezed past an immobile Buu Ngoc. HAGL’s misery were then compounded three minutes afterwards, after Bruno Cantanhede was fouled deep within the area by Buu Ngoc. The Brazilian took it upon himself to take the resulting penalty and he confidently thumped the ball past Buu Ngoc.
The 4-1 victory meant that Viettel retained their two point gap behind Sai Gon, with the Red Tornado waiting patiently in the wings for any slip-ups from the men in pink.
Round 14 continues on Saturday with the first matches of the relegation group, with Thanh Hoa FC taking on Duoc Nam Ha Nam Dinh at the Thanh Hoa Stadium and SHB Da Nang locking horns with Hai Phong FC at the Hoa Xuan Stadium.
However, all eyes will be on the championship group match between defending V.League 1 champions Hanoi FC and Ho Chi Minh City at the Hang Day Stadium, the fourth match between the Northern Vietnam titans and the Southern Vietnam giants this season. Ho Chi Minh City had been humiliated not once, not twice, but three times by Hanoi this season and Jung Hae-seong’s men are determined to set things right deep within enemy territory. With Hanoi coming from behind to beat Ho Chi Minh City 2-1 at the Thong Nhat in the 2020 Vietnamese Super Cup before humbling them 3-0 at the same venue in the first half of the season and dismantling them 5-1 at the Hang Day in the 2020 Vietnamese National Cup semifinal, the Red Battleship are eager to exact some revenge on Saturday night.
Last but not least, Saturday will have another championship group match to be played out, between Than Quang Ninh and Becamex Binh Duong at the Cam Pha Stadium.