Southeast Asia Vietnam

Lee Nguyen’s Last-Minute Penalty Settles the Ho Chi Minh Derby

A good portion of the 2021 V.League 1’s Round 4 was played out over Thursday and Friday, with the round being headlined by the Ho Chi Minh Derby between Ho Chi Minh City FC and Sai Gon FC at the Thong Nhat Stadium. Acting as hosts for Friday’s showdown, Ho Chi Minh City managed to plunder a dramatic 1-0 win over their city rivals, thanks to a penalty from Vietnamese-American midfielder Lee Nguyen in the last minute of the match.

Lee’s penalty was one of the two penalties being awarded in the match by the referee, with Sai Gon squandering their own penalty in the 51st minute after Daisuke Matsui had rattled the crossbar with his penalty. Adding more salt into the men in green’s injury, the ball landed millimeters away from the goal-line and had Ho Chi Minh City goalkeeper Nguyen Thanh Thang handled the ball carelessly when collecting it, the ball would surely rolled its way into the Ho Chi Minh City goal.

While Friday’s derby saw both Thong Nhat-based team going all out for the win, the match was mostly dictated by Alexandre Polking’s Ho Chi Minh City. The hosts had 60% of the possession and their Brazilian attacking trio – Dario Junior, Joao Paulo, and new signing Junior Barros – where threatening at times, however the Red Battleship were quite poor with their finishing. Despite employing a new head coach in Masahiro Shimoda, Sai Gon – who would’ve gone top of the league with a win – implemented the ambush tactics devised by Vu Tien Thanh prior to his departure to the PVF academy. They sat back, soak up the pressure, and waited for any Ho Chi Minh City mistake for them to pounce on and take advantage of.

One such mistake occurred in the 51st minute, when Sam Ngoc Duc fouled Sai Gon youngster Vo Nguyen Hoang within the Ho Chi Minh City penalty area. With the referee awarding Sai Gon a penalty kick, former Lechia Gdansk and Yokohama FC man Matsui was entrusted with executing it. The veteran midfielder pulled the trigger and Thanh Thang managed to guess the ball’s direction correctly. The ball grazed Thanh Thang’s palms before striking both the right goalpost and the crossbar, bouncing precariously in front of the goal-line afterwards.

Thanh Thang quickly scooped the ball into his hands before the ball could make its way into his goal, with the understandably incensed Sai Gon players protesting to the referee as they believed that the ball had went across the line after striking the crossbar. However, careful inspection on the penalty’s replay suggested that the ball had touched the ground a mere hair’s breadth away from the goal-line, had it landed a few millimeters away then Sai Gon would surely be given the goal.

With their penalty wasted and their star striker Do Merlo being locked out of the ball, Sai Gon ended up conceding a penalty of their own deep into injury time. Substitute Nguyen Van Ngo had clattered Lam Ti Phong inside the Sai Gon penalty area, prompting the referee to once again blow for a spot kick, this time in favor of Ho Chi Minh City. Former New England Revolution, Los Angeles FC, and Inter Miami man Lee was tasked in taking the penalty, as Ho Chi Minh City head coach Mano turned his back on the pitch and looked towards the stands instead, a habit of his where the Brazilian would not see his team’s penalty until it was taken.

Lee confidently slotted home his penalty with perfection, easily sending Sai Gon goalkeeper Pham Van Phong the wrong way with virtually the last kick of the game. Immediately Mano broke out into smiles as the home crowd cheered on their heroes, with Lee being swarmed by his jubilant teammates. Sai Gon, on the other hand, hung their head in defeat as Van Ngo was given a red card for both his earlier foul and for over-remonstrating at the referee.

Friday’s V.League 1 action also saw Topenland Binh Dinh marking their return to the Quy Nhon Stadium after renovations on a very high note, as they ended SHB Da Nang’s perfect run with a 1-0 win. Ho Tan Tai’s early goal ended up being the decider for the Dark Horses over their Central Vietnam rivals, with newly promoted Binh Dinh moving up to 4th in the V.League 1 table as a result of this win. Defending champions Viettel FC also had a good Round 4, running out 2-1 winners over fellow Northern Vietnam side Duoc Nam Ha Nam Dinh away at the Thien Truong Stadium.

Earlier on Thursday, Bruno Cantanhede bagged himself a brace as Hanoi FC saw off Dong A Thanh Hoa 3-2 at the Hang Day Stadium, while Song Lam Nghe An worked out a 1-0 win over Than Quang Ninh at the Vinh Stadium.

Round 4 wraps up this Saturday with Hoang Anh Gia Lai taking on basement side Hong Linh Ha Tinh at the latter’s Ha Tinh Stadium, while Hai Phong FC pay the Go Dau Stadium a visit as they went up against Becamex Binh Duong.