Than Quang Ninh staked their claim for the 2020 V.League 1 title on Saturday night as they condemned Ho Chi Minh City to yet another defeat at the Cam Pha Stadium in their Round 17 championship group match. Two goals in the first half sent Quang Ninh to a 2-1 win over the Red Battleship, with Phan Thanh Hung’s Hero Miner now sitting 3rd in the V.League 1 table with 31 points – equal with 2nd placed Viettel FC who were deposed by Hanoi FC, who won their Round 17 match on Saturday as well to go top of the league with 32 points. Viettel are yet to play their Round 17 match though and they could reclaim the V.League 1 summit should they beat Hong Linh Ha Tinh away on Sunday.
Ho Chi Minh City visit Cam Pha with an immense pressure on their shoulders – Jung Hae-seong’s charges are winless in their last four games, losing 3 of them and drawing once. The Red Battleship were still without the injured Nguyen Cong Phuong and Vo Huy Toan, and despite a brief cameo in last Monday’s Ho Chi Minh Derby draw with Sai Gon FC, Seo Yong-duk found himself back in the treatment room with a broken ligament in his right knee that ended his season prematurely. And considering Quang Ninh are unbeaten in their last four matches, taking on the Hero Miner at the Cam Pha without a number of key men would prove to be a daunting task for Ho Chi Minh City, despite the Red Battleship having demolished Quang Ninh 3-0 at the Cam Pha in the first half of the season.
Quang Ninh’s midfield trio of Pham Nguyen Sa, Nguyen Hai Long, and Pham Trung Hieu managed to carve the Ho Chi Minh City defense open, allowing the home side to control the game and create a number of chances. The Hero Miner managed to make use of one of those chances and took the lead in the 24th minute. Ho Chi Minh City’s Sam Ngoc Duc was unable to clear the ball away from his territory properly, allowing the ball to drop into Hai Long’s possession deep within the away side’s defense. Hai Long then played the ball short towards Jeremie Lynch, who rifled in a powerful shot that went past Nguyen Thanh Thang’s outstretched arms.
Quang Ninh kept on their pressure after their opener and soon enough, in the 37th minute they took advantage of a mistake from a Ho Chi Minh City defender to double their advantage. Le Van Son inadvertently headed the ball onto the path of Giang Tran Quach Tan, who slotted the ball between Thanh Thang’s legs and into the goal.
With the Hero Miner now two goals to the good, Quang Ninh started the second half in a much more defensive manner, slowly retreating back into their area to sit on their lead. This allowed Ho Chi Minh City to patiently grow their way back into the match, seeing much more of the ball in the second stanza. With much of the possession now theirs, Ho Chi Minh City embarked on a quest to chase the game, and they managed to reduce the deficit in the 63rd minute. Ngo Hoang Tinh swung in the perfect cross from the right flank, allowing Jose Guillermo Ortiz to smash home a header past Quang Ninh goalie Huynh Tuan Linh. 2-1 and with around 27 minutes to go, it’s game on for Ho Chi Minh City.
Unfortunately for the Red Battleship, Quang Ninh proceeded to sit back and soak the pressure after conceding Ortiz’s goal, and the Costa Rican was close to tying the game up in the 80th minute. However, Tuan Linh came to the rescue and gathered Ortiz’s shot with his hands, allowing Quang Ninh to retain their lead and end the game as 2-1 victors.
The three points meant that Quang Ninh have extended their unbeaten run in the V.League 1 to 8 matches, an incredible run considering that during the second COVID-19 enforced suspension of the league, the Hero Miner bizarrely dumped key players Nghiem Xuan Tu, Mac Hong Quan, and Diego Fagan to Northeast Vietnam rivals Hai Phong FC, with the former two joining the Lach Tray outfit on loan. The loss of the trio did not affect Quang Ninh that much though and after the season had split into both the championship group and the relegation group, the Hero Miner brought their unbeaten run from the latter stages of the season’s first half into the championship group, earning themselves a shot at the V.League 1 title.
Saturday’s other V.League 1 championship group match saw Hanoi kicking Viettel out of the V.League 1 summit thanks to a 2-1 win over Becamex Binh Duong at the Hang Day Stadium. The capital side went down 1-0 on half-time courtesy of a 27th minute Nguyen Tien Linh goal, however they roared back in the second half and claimed all three points thanks to a 71st minute goal from Rimario Gordon and a 90th minute winner from Nguyen Quang Hai. The win ensured that Hanoi would go top of the V.League 1 with 32 points, however a win away at Ha Tinh for Viettel on Sunday would ensure that the Red Tornado would reclaim the V.League 1 summit from their city rivals.
Sunday’s other championship group action sees Hoang Anh Gia Lai host Sai Gon at the Pleiku Stadium, with the latter determined to halt their 2-game winless run to keep their title chances alive.
Meanwhile, Round 17 for the relegation group will kick-off on Sunday, with a huge Central Vietnam Derby between last-placed Quang Nam FC and already safe SHB Da Nang at the Tam Ky Stadium headlining the relegation group’s three matches. Quang Nam must win their derby match against Da Nang and hope that 13th placed Hai Phong slip-up away at Duoc Nam Ha Nam Dinh to prolong their quest for survival. Anything other than a Quang Nam win would spell the end of the road for Nguyen Thanh Cong’s men – their 6-year tenure in the V.League 1 over only three years after they won the entire thing in 2017.
The third and final relegation group match on Sunday sees Thanh Hoa FC hosting Song Lam Nghe An at the Thanh Hoa Stadium. With both sides safe from relegation, this match will serve as dead rubber as both teams have nothing to play for other than pride.