Round 18 of the 2020 V.League 1’s championship group was played out across Thursday and Friday and the results had some effect on the ongoing title race. The league’s top 4 teams played against one another on Thursday and it was Sai Gon who were the big winners of the day, beating Than Quang Ninh 2-1 at the Thong Nhat Stadium to keep their heads well placed in the ongoing title hunt. Sai Gon’s Brazilian striker Pedro Paulo was the player of the match, scoring a brace to ensure 2nd place for the men in pink.
With much of the championship group games already being played, this year’s V.League 1 title will be contested between four teams – current league leaders Viettel FC, defending champions Hanoi FC, Sai Gon, and Quang Ninh. Round 18 sees Sai Gon hosting Quang Ninh at the Thong Nhat, while at the same time Viettel took on Hanoi in the latest edition of the Capital Derby at the Hang Day Stadium. Both Viettel and Hanoi were two points apart in first and second respectively coming into Round 18, meaning that whoever wins in that encounter will have the advantage in the title race, while the winners between Sai Gon (4th) and Quang Ninh (3rd) will have the opportunity to jump all the way into 2nd place, presenting them with a chance to breath down the league leaders’ neck coming into Round 19.
Having breached the fortress that is the Pleiku Stadium with a 4-2 away win over Hoang Anh Gia Lai in Round 17, Sai Gon were very confident that they could get a result off Quang Ninh, who themselves dispatched Sai Gon’s city rivals Ho Chi Minh City FC in their Round 17 match. And much to the delight of Sai Gon’s club president/head coach Vu Tien Thanh, Sai Gon’s Brazilian attacking duo in Pedro and Geovane clicked together magnificently once again on Thursday.
Both Pedro and Geovane were heavily involved in Sai Gon’s win over HAGL last time out and the duo once again proved their worth for the team in the 10th minute. A Geovane cross from the left was tapped onto the path of Pedro by Bui Tran Vu, with the former Lampang FC player outsmarting his marker Nguyen Van Viet before launching a shot that went straight towards the roof of Huynh Tuan Linh’s goal.
With the opening goal in the bag, Sai Gon became more confident in launching their assault on the Quang Ninh defense and in the 28th minute Huynh Tan Tai’s cross was headed into Tuan Linh’s goal by Tran Vu. However, the linesman had already raised his flag for offside during the buildup towards the goal, leading to Tran Vu’s effort being chalked off.
Tran Vu’s disallowed goal provided Quang Ninh with a moment of relief, as they were dealt a heavy blow three minutes prior to the incident after their star striker Jeremie Lynch was hauled off with an injury. However, that moment of relief lasted only until the 57th minute, when Sai Gon finally got themselves their second goal. Geovane floated a cross into the Quang Ninh box, where Pedro received the ball with his chest. The Brazilian then proceeded to shake Van Viet off him once again before smashing in a low, driving shot that went past Tuan Linh and into the bottom right corner of the goal.
Quang Ninh did grab themselves a goal in the 67th minute through substitute Trinh Hoa Hung’s blistering finish, but it served as mere consolation as Sai Gon proceeded to shut up shop and defended their lead all the way into full time. The 2-1 victory, coupled with the Capital Derby ending in a goalless stalemate, enabled Sai Gon to go up into 2nd place with 34 points, a point behind league leaders Viettel and a point ahead of 3rd placed Hanoi. Quang Ninh drop down to 4th place with 31 points, four points adrift from the summit.
Adding more suspense to the title race, the top four teams will still have to play each other in the final two matchweeks of the 2020 season, with Sai Gon taking on Hanoi at the Hang Day on Round 19 and Viettel at the Thong Nhat in Round 20, while Quang Ninh would have to face off against Viettel at the Hang Day on Round 19 and Hanoi at the Cam Pha Stadium in Round 20. Round 19 in particular is a crucial set of matches, as the top four were playing on separate days with Viettel playing on November 3rd and Hanoi on November 4th, meaning that both Hanoi and Sai Gon would know what they have to do in their showdown should they find out the outcome of the Viettel-Quang Ninh match.
One thing’s for sure, this year’s title race promises to be one of the most exciting V.League title races in recent years, with the title races in both the 2017 (between Quang Nam FC, FLC Thanh Hoa, and Hanoi) and 2012 (between SHB Da Nang, Hanoi, and Xuan Thanh Sai Gon) seasons coming quite close.
Friday’s championship group action saw Ho Chi Minh City finally breaking their 5-match winless run to earn their first win in the championship group, edging out HAGL 2-1 at the Thong Nhat thanks to goals from Sam Ngoc Duc and Ariel Rodriguez, while Becamex Binh Duong played out a 1-1 draw with Hong Linh Ha Tinh at their Go Dau Stadium.
Round 18 continues on Saturday with the final set of matches from the relegation group, with two do-or-die matches involving 13th placed Duoc Nam Ha Nam Dinh and last-placed Quang Nam to avoid the dreaded relegation trapdoor. Quang Nam will travel to Hai Phong’s Lach Tray Stadium knowing that they must win there and hope for a Nam Dinh slip-up to ensure their safety, with Nam Dinh taking on Song Lam Nghe An at the latter’s Vinh Stadium. Last but not least, both Da Nang and Thanh Hoa will face-off in a dead rubber match at the Hoa Xuan Stadium.