Former Thai League 1 head coaches Alexandre “Mano” Polking and Kiatisuk “Zico” Senamuang received harsh welcomes to the V.League 1 on Sunday as their respective teams were defeated in their first competitive outings. Mano’s Ho Chi Minh City went down 1-0 at SHB Da Nang, while Zico’s Hoang Anh Gia Lai were beaten away at Sai Gon FC with the same scoreline.
Former True Bangkok United head coach Mano took charge of his first V.League 1 match at Da Nang’s Hoa Xuan Stadium, with Ho Chi Minh City seeking to build upon a promising pre-season with a positive start to their league campaign. Star midfielder Lee Nguyen is still undergoing quarantine after his arrival from the United States, meaning that the new signing sits this encounter out. However, former Duoc Nam Ha Nam Dinh midfielder Le Sy Minh was given his first start in a Ho Chi Minh City shirt alongside fellow debutant Dario Junior. Meanwhile, another Nam Dinh man is also making his starting debut for his new club in this match, with Rafaelson pairing up together with Ha Duc Chinh as Da Nang’s attacking duo.
Playing at home comforts gave Da Nang the confidence of attacking from the get-go, with Duc Chinh threatening Nguyen Thanh Thang’s goal as early as the 9th minute. The Phu Tho Province-born native received an excellent cross from Phan Van Long, however Duc Chinh squandered his opportunity when it mattered the most.
Duc Chinh was not to be denied in the 17th minute though and once again his teamwork with Van Long resulted in another chance for Da Nang, only this time Thanh Thang was well-beaten. As he and Duc Chinh made their way into the Ho Chi Minh City area, Thanh Long sent a short pass, which Duc Chinh received quickly. Ho Chi Minh City defender Pape Diakite tried his best in marking both Duc Chinh and Dang Anh Tuan, but after pausing for a few seconds to make sure that his marker would switch his attention towards Anh Tuan behind him, Duc Chinh sent a powerful shot that went past both a distracted Diakite and a diving Thanh Thang, giving Da Nang the lead.
Conceding the first goal stung Ho Chi Minh City into action and in the 35th minute Nguyen Xuan Nam managed to seize an excellent pass from Sy Minh before firing off a powerful shot that tested Da Nang goalie Nguyen Tuan Manh, who managed to pull of an excellent save to deny the 27-year old.
Try as Ho Chi Minh City might in chasing for an equalizer, Da Nang went into a defensive stance once both Van Long and Duc Chinh were hauled off with injuries, ensuring that Mano’s side would create limited chances throughout the remainder of the match. The likes of Ngo Hoang Tinh, Vu Quang Nam, and Tran Thanh Binh attempted to break their way into the home side’s defense, however Da Nang managed to clung onto their lead tightly and emerged out of the match as 1-0 winners, giving Mano a debut match to forget.
Meanwhile, at Ho Chi Minh City, Zico’s HAGL side took on a strong-looking Sai Gon side led by newly-appointed captain Daisuke Matsui. Having gone into a lengthy sabbatical from his previous head coach job, Zico managed to lead HAGL in an admirable manner at the Thong Nhat Stadium, with the men from Pleiku seeing most of the ball and overall displaying a better brand of football compared to their opponents. Unfortunately, HAGL made one mistake during the match and a patient Sai Gon managed to punish that mistake dearly.
The game’s decisive goal was scored in the 40th minute, with veteran striker Do Merlo taking advantage of a mistake made by HAGL defender Nguyen Huu Tuan. The Argentine-born striker managed to steal the ball off Huu Tuan and lashed in a powerful shot that went past HAGL custodian Huynh Tuan Linh.
Apart from that single mistake, HAGL managed to outplay their opponents, with the away team creating plenty of opportunities that were sadly wasted, leaving Pham Van Phong’s goal virtually untouched. Having completely face-lifted their squad in the buildup towards the 2021 season, Sai Gon’s new faces needed some more time to gel together, however both Matsui and Merlo – two of the oldest players within that squad – were able to command their presence within the team. Sai Gon’s patience and decisiveness were paid off nicely as Vu Tien Thanh’s men ended the match as victors – much to the disappointment of Zico and his HAGL charges.
Last but not least, what was undoubtedly the best match of Round 1 happened at the Ha Tinh Stadium, where Than Quang Ninh managed to score two late goals to ensure a dramatic 2-1 comeback win over hosts Hong Linh Ha Tinh. Ha Tinh managed to take the lead in the 26th minute thanks to a stunner from captain Tran Phi Son and the hosts had two chances of extending their lead when they were given two penalty kicks in the 33rd and 45th minutes. New signing Claudecir sent his penalty off-target in his first attempt, before his second attempt just before half-time was saved by Quang Ninh goalkeeper Nguyen Hoai Anh.
Claudecir’s misses would proved to be costly for Ha Tinh as former Kalteng Putra striker Eydison scored Quang Ninh’s equalizer in the 82nd minute, before he completed the comeback and sealed the win for the Hero Miner with virtually the last kick of the game, ensuring all three points for Hoang Tho’s men.