Southeast Asia Vietnam

VL1 Title Race Down to Two as Sai Gon, Quang Ninh Lose Ground

The 2020 V.League 1 title race has become an all-Hanoi affair as both Than Quang Ninh and Sai Gon FC lost to their Hanoian opponents in the league’s 19th round. A single Caique Lemes goal was enough for Viettel FC to saw off Quang Ninh 1-0 at the Hang Day Stadium on Tuesday, while Wednesday’s championship group action saw Hanoi FC avenging their defeat at the hands of Sai Gon in the first half of the season with an exciting 4-2 win over the men in pink at the Hang Day.

Former Chiangmai FC player Caique played a huge role in winning Singha Chiangrai United their first Thai League 1 title last season with his last-minute equalizer against Buriram United and he’s on the path of repeating that achievement this season, with his 37th minute goal potentially giving Viettel the all-important upper-hand in the title race. Truong Viet Hoang’s league leaders took on a Quang Ninh side desperate for all three points to keep their own title chances alive, however the Hero Miner’s hopes of claiming their maiden V.League 1 title were snuffed out by Viettel’s high pressure playing style.

Viettel’s high pressure prevented Quang Ninh’s midfield from implementing their usual style of play, which in turn allowed the Red Tornado to knock on Quang Ninh’s defense from the get-go. Duong Van Hao almost gave the hosts the lead as early as the 6th minute, however his shot went agonizingly wide. Viettel’s Brazilian strike-force of Caique and Bruno Cantanhede then tested Huynh Tuan Linh’s goal with a couple of chances in the 25th and 30th minute respectively and seven minutes after Caique’s powerful shot went over Tuan Linh’s goal, Viettel found their breakthrough.

Van Hao played an instrumental role in Viettel’s only goal of the game, angling in a low cross from the left wing. Caique immediately seized the ball and volleyed in a shot with his first touch, with the ball smashing its way into Tuan Linh’s goal as the keeper was left utterly stunned.

Quang Ninh did improve in the second half and almost threatened Viettel’s goal twice through Claudecir, however the Hai Phong FC loanee squandered both of his chances. In the end Viettel managed to shut up shop and defended their lead excellently, with the 1-0 scoreline unchanged until full-time.

Tuesday’s other championship group matches saw Tran Phi Son scoring a brace as Ho Chi Minh City FC edged out hosts Hong Linh Ha Tinh 3-2, while Hoang Anh Gia Lai catastrophically blow a 2-goal lead to lose 3-2 away at Becamex Binh Duong – HAGL’s sixth consecutive defeat.

Football returns to the Hang Day on Wednesday as Viettel’s city rivals Hanoi took on Sai Gon, with the two teams gunning for a win to keep up pace with leaders Viettel. Hanoi had extra incentive coming into this match as well, as Sai Gon had beaten them 1-0 at the same venue in the first half of the season. Chu Dinh Nghiem’s men were looking for revenge over Vu Tien Thanh’s charges and they are determined to both avenge their defeat earlier in the season and end Sai Gon’s hopes for a maiden V.League 1 title.

Almost immediately after kick-off Hanoi went straight for the offensive, with Doan Van Hau replacing the suspended Nguyen Thanh Chung in the capital side’s starting lineup. The men in purple drew first blood in the 9th minute, after some excellent play from Le Van Xuan, Pham Thanh Luong, and Do Hung Dung led to Rimario Gordon smashing a bullet of a header from close range past Sai Gon goalie Pham Van Phong.

Van Hau’s presence in the heart of the Hanoi defense allowed the hosts to restrict the ball from reaching Sai Gon’s very own Geovane, preventing the men in pink from challenging the Hanoi backline. Instead, it was Hanoi that had plenty of chances in the first half, with the likes of Nguyen Quang Hai, Nguyen Van Quyet, and Thanh Luong testing Van Phong in the Sai Gon goal. However, despite Hanoi trying their best to double their lead, it was Sai Gon who scored the game’s second goal in the 40th minute.

Moses Oloya was dispossessed by Geovane within Sai Gon territory, allowing the Brazilian to make a mad dash towards Bui Tan Truong’s goal with the ball. Van Hau tried his best in stopping Geovane however the Sai Gon attacker fired a cannonball from range that pierced Hanoi’s goal despite Tan Truong’s best efforts in protecting his post. 1-1 and that was the scoreline as the referee blew for half-time.

Hanoi were left absolutely livid by Sai Gon’s equalizer as they felt that Moses was fouled by Geovane in the goal’s buildup, but in the 47th minute Quang Hai managed to quell Hanoi’s frustrations by scoring his side’s second goal, a powerful volley from outside the box that left Van Phong utterly stunned.

Five minutes afterwards it was Thanh Luong’s turn to shine, firing home from a tight angle to extend Hanoi’s advantage. The hosts’ three points were then secured in the 66th minute, with Dang Van Toi slotting home a close-ranged shot to attain insurance for Hanoi.

Pedro Paulo did close the gap for Sai Gon in the 69th minute after the former Lampang FC man had taken advantage of Tan Truong rushing out of his post to head in Sai Gon’s second of the game, however it came as nothing but consolation as Hanoi secured all three points with the 4-2 victory.

Wins for both Viettel and Hanoi in Round 19 meant that the V.League 1 title will be staying in Hanoi for the 2020 season, however it will be a race between defending champions Hanoi and Vietnamese football’s sleeping giants Viettel for this year’s league silverware. With the two teams having both won 5 V.League 1 titles, whoever wins this year’s league campaign will become the V.League 1’s most successful team outright. Viettel still have the advantage as they currently lead the league with 38 points, however Hanoi are steadily breathing down their necks in 2nd place with 36 points.

Despite losing out on the title race, both Quang Ninh (4th, 31 points) and Sai Gon (3rd, 34 points) still have important roles to be played in the final matchweek of the season. With Hanoi making the short trip to Cam Pha to take on Quang Ninh and Viettel traveling down South to face Sai Gon at the Thong Nhat Stadium in Ho Chi Minh City on November 8th, both Quang Ninh and Sai Gon could help Viettel and Hanoi respectively to clinch their league title.

Another added incentive to both Quang Ninh and Sai Gon is Vietnam’s second slot in the 2021 AFC Cup – with Hanoi having assured both qualification to next year’s Asian club competitions with their 2020 Vietnamese National Cup title and a top three finish this season and Viettel assured of a top three finish of their own as well, there will be a spot for either Quang Ninh or Sai Gon in next year’s AFC Cup should either of them finish the season within the top three places in the league. However, Quang Ninh’s inferior goal difference compared to Sai Gon’s meant that the Hero Miner will have to win big against Hanoi to have a shot at that ticket to Asian club competitions for 2021.