V.League 1 basement dwellers Quang Nam FC are taking the relegation battle to the final round of games in the relegation group after recovering from an early setback to beat derby rivals SHB Da Nang 3-1 in Sunday’s V.League 1 Round 17 action. Despite closest rivals Hai Phong FC edging out Duoc Nam Ha Nam Dinh 3-2 in the other relegation group match, Quang Nam’s Central Vietnam Derby victory ensures that they are now two points away from 13th placed Nam Dinh, which means the race to avoid the sole relegation spot to the V.League 2 is now down to the wire.
Da Nang, who were already safe from any fears of relegation, took the early initiative in the latest edition of the Central Vietnam Derby at the Tam Ky Stadium, drawing first blood after just 30 seconds through Grace Tanda, who managed to outmuscle Dinh Viet Tu and slotted home a shot towards the bottom right corner that went past Quang Nam goalkeeper Pham Van Cuong’s outstretched arms. However Quang Nam, knowing all too well the magnitude of this derby and the consequences that came with losing, refuse to give up after that early setback and they managed to draw the scoreline level in the 17th minute through Rodrigo Dias, with the Brazilian managing to beat Da Nang goalie Nguyen Tuan Manh with a well-taken shot from close range.
The equalizer boosted Quang Nam’s spirits even more and in the second half they went on a full-scale assault at the Da Nang defense. Both Ze Paulo and Huynh Tan Sinh tested the waters with their shots, however it was Quang Nam captain Dinh Thanh Trung who managed to put the ball past Tuan Manh to give the league’s last-placed team the all-important lead in the 59th minute. Viet Tu was accredited with the assist, as it was his cross that enabled Thanh Trung to beat Tuan Manh from close range.
And in the 83rd minute, the three points were sealed for Quang Nam after Tan Sinh rose the highest amongst the sea of Da Nang players to head in Thanh Trung’s corner into Tuan Manh’s goal. 3-1 Quang Nam and that’s how the latest edition of the Central Vietnam Derby ended – a vital victory for Quang Nam in their battle against relegation and local bragging rights now rightfully theirs. The win also avenged Quang Nam’s humiliating 6-1 defeat at Da Nang in the first half of the season.
Quang Nam’s second straight win meant that Nguyen Thanh Cong’s men have collected 15 points from 17 matches so far and despite remaining dead last for at least another matchweek, Quang Nam can take solace that they are only two points off Nam Dinh above them. And indeed, Nam Dinh’s 3-2 home defeat at the hands of Hai Phong coupled with Quang Nam’s derby win meant that the battle against relegation has been narrowed down to a straight showdown to the death between Quang Nam and Nam Dinh, with the relegation group only having one more round of matches to play.
Hai Phong’s victory at Nam Dinh secured safety for the men in red, but the three points, earned thanks to a late Joseph Mpande goal, was marred by the dismissal of their defender Nguyen Van Hanh. Van Hanh was sent off in an ill-tempered end to the match after he had elbowed Nam Dinh’s Le Sy Minh, thus leading to the referee brandishing the already booked Van Hanh a second yellow card and with it his marching orders. On his way out, Van Hanh punched another Nam Dinh player, Phan Van Hieu, when the latter attempted to prevent Van Hanh from protesting to the referee along with a number of other Nam Dinh players. Van Hanh later made a statement to VNExpress that he had punched Van Hieu as retaliation to Lam Anh Quang allegedly trying to strangle him during the scuffle.
Things got even more heated at the Thien Truong Stadium when the Nam Dinh fans, angered by Van Hanh’s actions, threatened to invade the pitch, but thankfully Hai Phong managed to survive those tense few minutes to retain the vital three points.
Last but not least, wrapping up Sunday’s relegation group matches was the dead rubber at the Thanh Hoa Stadium between already safe teams Thanh Hoa FC and Song Lam Nghe An, which ended in a 1-1 draw.
The championship group action on Sunday saw Viettel FC returning to the V.League 1 summit after beating Hong Linh Ha Tinh 1-0 away at the Ha Tinh Stadium, with Nguyen Trong Dai’s second half strike the decider. Meanwhile at the Pleiku Stadium, Sai Gon FC kept their title challenge alive with a 4-2 win over hosts Hoang Anh Gia Lai, with Pedro Paulo scoring a brace for the men in pink.
Sunday’s results meant that Viettel now lead the way with 34 points, while city rivals and defending V.League 1 champions Hanoi FC are in 2nd place with 32 points. Rounding up the top four are Than Quang Ninh on 3rd and Sai Gon on 4th, both of them having 31 points. This sets up an exciting 4-horse title race with 3 rounds left to go in the championship group, made even more exciting by the fact that in Round 18 these four teams will clash against one another, with Viettel taking on Hanoi in the Capital Derby at the Hang Day and Sai Gon facing off against Quang Ninh at the Thong Nhat, both matches taking place on October 29th. The two ties could decide who would walk away with the 2020 V.League 1 title come the end of the season.