Rounds 3 and 4 of the 2021 V.League 1 season – the final two rounds before the league goes into the Lunar New Year holiday – have been disrupted by the outbreak of new COVID-19 cases in Northern Vietnam. The league has taken safety measures by postponing a number of Round 3 matches and the entirety of Round 4 as the number of new COVID-19 cases increases in provinces within the country’s northern region.
Having gone 55 days without any local COVID-19 transmissions, Vietnam recorded 84 new locally-transmitted cases on Thursday, before Friday saw 9 more community-transmitted infections. These outbreaks of COVID-19 were mainly focused in Hai Duong Province, with the region recording 77 locally-transmitted cases. Quang Ninh Province recorded 13 new community-transmitted cases, while the cities of Hanoi and Hai Phong and the province of Bac Ninh recorded one case each.
In the light of this, league organizers Vietnam Professional Football Joint Stock Company made the move of postponing Than Quang Ninh’s Round 3 home match against Ho Chi Minh City FC at the Cam Pha Stadium, with Alexandre Polking’s men thankfully having yet to depart North by the time the postponement was announced on Thursday. SHB Da Nang, who visited Cam Pha Stadium in Round 2, quickly tested their players and staffs for the novel coronavirus. Le Huynh Duc’s men had to quarantine themselves for the time being, which meant that their Round 3 match against Hong Linh Ha Tinh at the Hoa Xuan Stadium had to be postponed as well.
The hotly anticipated Northern Vietnam Derby between arch-rivals Hanoi FC and Hai Phong FC at the latter’s Lach Tray Stadium was also among the five Round 3 matches being postponed by the league, with Viettel FC’s home match at the Hang Day Stadium against Becamex Binh Duong as well as Hoang Anh Gia Lai’s home match at the Pleiku Stadium against Topenland Binh Dinh being called-off as well.
This meant that Round 3 will only see two matches taking place on Saturday, with Dong A Thanh Hoa hosting Duoc Nam Ha Nam Dinh at the Thanh Hoa Stadium and Sai Gon FC hosting Song Lam Nghe An at the Thong Nhat Stadium. The two matches will take place at empty stadiums with zero fans allowed.
The entirety of Round 4 has been postponed, meaning that teams will embark into their Lunar New Year holidays early. Vietnam has a good track record in handling COVID-19 cases and despite the league being postponed twice in 2020, a change in format saw last season being completed successfully, which means that this season’s action should resume smoothly after the Lunar New Year, providing that the ongoing outbreak of cases is being managed properly by the health authorities.
V.League 1 Clubs Finalize Foreign Contingents
With a number of foreign players within the V.League 1 on probationary short-term contracts that were issued out due to the ongoing pandemic, teams were given until Round 4 to perform changes within their foreign quota.
After earlier reports suggesting that Binh Duong would offload American attacker Victor Mansaray from their squad due to attitude issues, the Eastern Whirlwind went back on their word, having decided to give Victor another chance with the club. The Sierra Leone-born player had been at odds with the press, referees, and head coach Phan Thanh Hung ever since pre-season, however his excellent performance in Round 2 where he scored a goal as Binh Duong edged out Hanoi at the Hang Day have helped 23-year old Victor secure his place in the Binh Duong squad.
Binh Duong had been rumored to have signed striker Oussou Konan from the Ivory Coast to replace Victor, however with Victor staying at the Go Dau Stadium, Oussou ended up being signed by Nam Dinh. Nam Dinh had earlier booted Kosovan midfielder Gramoz Kurtaj off the team due to him refusing to play in the Knights of Thanh Nam’s Round 2 match against Hai Phong and it did not take Gramoz long to find another club as he returned to Thanh Hoa for a second stint.
Gramoz’s return meant that Thanh Hoa had to release Jamaican striker Chevaughn Walsh, who was promptly snapped up by Ha Tinh. Ha Tinh themselves had terminated the contract of Brazilian striker Claudecir, who infamously missed two penalties in Ha Tinh’s Round 1 defeat at the hands of Quang Ninh.
Ho Chi Minh City are also planning to join the foreigners chop-and-change party, as they seek to offload Pape Diakite to SLNA and planning to bring another Brazilian attacker into the club in the form of Junior Barros from J.League 2 side Ventforet Kofu. Meanwhile, defending champions Viettel took the move to terminate Luizao from his contract, with former Persija Jakarta, Bhayangkara Solo FC, and Madura United man Bruno Matos being projected as his replacement, while another former Persija man, Jahongir Abdumuminov of Uzbekistan, has been confirmed as the Red Tornado’s AFC player for the 2021 campaign.
As they waited for Diakite to arrive at the Vinh Stadium, SLNA had already brought in former Ha Tinh striker Bruno Henrique to replace former PSMS Medan and HAGL man Felipe Martins, while Quang Ninh has decided to release Patrick Leonardo from his contract and bring in former Binh Duong, Da Nang, and Nam Dinh man Diogo Pereira as his replacement.