Round 2 of the 2021 V.League 1 kicks-off on Friday with Kiatisuk Senamuang’s Hoang Anh Gia Lai taking on Song Lam Nghe An at the former’s Pleiku Stadium. The away side managed to nick themselves a goal in the opening 20 minutes, however once SLNA found themselves a man down, HAGL showed resolve and character to turn the tides around and emerged out as 2-1 victors, giving “Coach Zico” his first win in his third stint as HAGL head coach.
Felipe Martins, formerly of PSMS Medan and interestingly enough HAGL, opened the scoreline in the 17th minute for SLNA, taking advantage of HAGL goalie Huynh Tuan Linh being unable to clear a SLNA corner properly. The Brazilian seized a Bui Dinh Chau shot and bundled the ball into his former employers’ net, silencing the Pleiku Stadium with the exception of the away end.
HAGL responded almost immediately and in the 22nd minute, they almost drew the scoreline level. Tran Minh Vuong laid the ball off towards Nguyen Cong Phuong, who chested the ball before firing off a powerful, long-ranged volley that smacked the SLNA goalposts, which riled up the Pleiku crowd despite the chance being unable to find its intended target.
As HAGL intensified their pressure on the game, disaster struck for SLNA in the 35th minute. Defender Thai Ba Sang, already in the referee’s book, performed a foul on Nguyen Van Toan in an attempt to thwart a HAGL attack. Despite the protests of Ba Sang’s teammates, the referee pulled out a second yellow card for the defender and promptly sent him off the field.
From there on forth, HAGL slowly assumed control of the proceedings. Vu Van Thanh’s effort struck Igor Jelic’s boot late into the first half, while the beginning of the second half saw Damir Memovic, a former SLNA player, almost scoring against his former club with a header that grazed the crossbar.
HAGL’s efforts were paid off in the 66th minute and the Mountain Men got their equalizer. New signing Washington Brandao broke into the left flank of the SLNA defense and sent a diagonal pass towards Minh Vuong, with the midfielder smashing in a venomous effort past SLNA goalkeeper Nguyen Van Hoang.
With the scoreline now level HAGL kept on pressing and pressing and in the 83rd minute Zico’s men managed to turn the tide of the match into their favor. Once again Brandao played an instrumental role in HAGL’s winning goal, making his way into the SLNA defense through the left flank once again. The Brazilian then crossed the ball towards Nigerian-born striker Nguyen Trung Dai Duong, however the ball was picked up by an onrushing Van Toan. The 24-year old played it short towards Dai Duong as he regained his composure, before the naturalized striker flicked the ball back towards him. Wasting no time, Van Toan fired off a powerful shot that went beyond the reaches of Van Hoang, completing the comeback.
Cong Phuong almost made it 3-1 in the dying minutes of the game, however the former Incheon United and Sint-Truiden player missed his mark completely. Nonetheless, HAGL had done more than enough to seal themselves all three points, ensuring that Zico’s return to the Pleiku Stadium would have a happy ending.
Round 2 continues on Saturday with Duoc Nam Ha Nam Dinh traveling to Hai Phong FC for a showdown between two Northern Vietnam teams, Hanoi FC hosting Becamex Binh Duong at the Hang Day Stadium, and Topenland Binh Dinh playing their first top flight home match in 12 years against Sai Gon FC. Due to the maintenance work currently being done at Quy Nhon Stadium, Binh Dinh will host Sai Gon at the August 19th Stadium of Nha Trang in Khanh Hoa Province.