They might’ve won the battle but they’ve lost the war. That’s exactly what happened to Quang Nam FC on Friday night’s V.League 1 relegation group action. Champions of the league’s 2017 edition, Quang Nam were dramatically relegated on Round 18 of this season’s V.League 1 – the last round of matches for the relegation group. The men from Tam Ky had indeed done their job, winning 4-2 away at Hai Phong FC. However, the two goals scored by Hai Phong meant that Quang Nam have an inferior goal difference compared to 13th placed Duoc Nam Ha Nam Dinh, who drew 1-1 away at Song Lam Nghe An. The two teams were tied with 18 points, but Quang Nam’s goal difference of -13 meant that they will be starting the 2021 season down in V.League 2, as Nam Dinh had a goal difference of -11 to their name.
Three years, one month, and six days to the moment Quang Nam lifted the V.League 1 title at the Tam Ky Stadium, the Central Vietnam side found themselves at the opposite spectrum of the league table at the Lach Tray Stadium. They must win at Hai Phong while at the same time hoping that SLNA would do them favors against Nam Dinh to ensure survival and luckily for Quang Nam, they’re currently on a resurgence. Underneath the stewardship of former Sai Gon FC and Thanh Hoa FC head coach Nguyen Thanh Cong, Quang Nam had won two of their last three games and Quang Nam’s performance in the first half suggested that they will make it three wins out of four after they had raced to a 3-0 lead over the hosts.
Knowing that their existence in the V.League 1 depends on how well they play in their final game of the season, the Quang Nam FC men played their game like there’s no tomorrow. The men in blue took a quick lead after just two minutes, with Phan Dinh Thang taking advantage of Hai Phong goalie Pham Van Luan rushing out of his post to give the away side the advantage.
Nineteen minutes after their opener, Quang Nam delivered a quick double salvo to triple their advantage, with the first coming in the 19th minute after Nguyen Anh Hung headed in a Dinh Thanh Trung corner into Van Luan’s goal, before Ze Paulo made it three in the 25th minute with a stunning acrobatic volley.
As Quang Nam were piling on the goals to boost their survival hopes, Nam Dinh were battling for their own skins away at the Vinh Stadium. The away side had a Rafaelson penalty saved by SLNA’s stand-in goalkeeper Tran Van Tien in the 19th minute, before SLNA had a Nguyen Van Viet goal being chalked off for offside in the 33rd minute. Rafaelson then redeemed himself for his penalty miss in the 34th minute, smashing in a header past Van Viet to give Quang Nam fans the fright of their lives, however shortly afterwards SLNA gave the away fans at the Lach Tray some degree of relief with a Bui Dinh Chau equalizer.
With Quang Nam winning and Nam Dinh drawing at half-time, the two teams were tied on points with only goal difference separating them. Quang Nam knew that they must repeat their first half performance in the second half to boost their goal difference, while at the same time hoping SLNA would do them a favor by either holding Nam Dinh to a draw or even better, beat them.
Captain Thanh Trung tested Van Luan in the 55th minute, before Quang Nam’s goal was threatened in quick succession by Nghiem Xuan Tu and Le The Cuong, with Quang Nam goalkeeper Pham Van Cuong catching the latter’s attempt with his gloves.
As SLNA worked hard to keep Nam Dinh at bay at the Vinh Stadium, it seems that Quang Nam would retain their three-goal advantage over Hai Phong all the way towards the end of the match. However, in the 87th minute, disaster struck for Quang Nam.
Hai Phong’s Brazilian striker Diego Silva was fouled inside the area by Dang Huu Phuoc, leaving the referee no choice but to award Hai Phong a penalty. Diego himself took the spot kick, slamming home a powerful shot past Van Cuong.
Hearing that Hai Phong had pulled one back, the Nam Dinh coaching team immediately told their players to play out for a draw at the Vinh Stadium, knowing that they now have the better goal difference over Quang Nam.
Realizing that any sort of recovery from Hai Phong would spell their relegation, Quang Nam quickly went on the offensive once again, scoring their fourth goal of the day in the 90th minute thanks to a superb free-kick from Thanh Trung. However, Hai Phong had the final say in this match shortly afterwards, with captain Joseph Mpande latching onto a through pass from substitute Ngo Quang before the Ugandan slotted the ball past Van Cuong.
Mpande’s goal could not stop Hai Phong from losing 4-2 at the hands of Quang Nam, however it did ensure that Quang Nam’s goal difference would be inferior compared to Nam Dinh’s, who finished their own do-or-die match with a 1-1 draw at SLNA. This means that Nam Dinh and their supporters broke out into celebrations at the Vinh Stadium as their safety was guaranteed, while the Quang Nam players and fans drop in despair as all of their effort and hard work in the past few matchweeks had amounted to nothing.
Replacing Quang Nam in the 2021 V.League 1 season will be 2020 V.League 2 champions Binh Dinh FC, who mounted a spirited charge in the second half of the season to claim this year’s second tier title over 2nd placed Ba Ria-Vung Tau and 3rd placed Sanna Khanh Hoa BVN. Binh Dinh were a former force of Vietnamese football in the early 2000s, despite not winning the league title back then, they managed to finish 3rd once in 2006 and clinch two Vietnamese National Cups in 2003 and 2004, earning themselves appearances in the 2004 and 2005 editions of the AFC Champions League.
Binh Dinh’s final day 1-0 home win over Pho Hien FC ended a 12-year exile from the V.League 1, which saw the Quy Nhon-based team spending some time in the Vietnamese third tier due to financial issues. The Dark Horse’s promotion also ensured that the South Central Coast of Vietnam would still have two representatives in the V.League 1, following SHB Da Nang’s survival.
Saturday’s other Round 18 result saw Da Nang and Thanh Hoa FC playing out an exciting 3-3 draw at the former’s Hoa Xuan Stadium, with Hoang Vu Samson scoring a last-minute equalizer for the away team.