Hoang Anh Gia Lai cemented their position as 2021 V.League 1 early pace-setters after condemning Ho Chi Minh City FC to their second consecutive 3-0 defeat on Sunday’s Round 6 action at the Pleiku Stadium. The battle between the V.League 1’s two highly-rated new head coaches in Kiatisuk Senamuang and Alexandre Polking ends in Zico utterly humiliating Mano as once again Nguyen Cong Phuong proved himself to be the shining light in yet another ruthless Mountain Men performance.
Having taken defending champions Viettel FC out to the cleaners on Round 5, Zico once again placed his star man Cong Phuong on the bench in Sunday’s match against Ho Chi Minh City, with whom Cong Phuong played for on loan last season. There was a sense of nostalgia for HAGL fans in the Ho Chi Minh City lineup as Mano fielded star midfielder Lee Nguyen, the Vietnamese-American midfielder having represented the Mountain Men from 2009 to 2010.
Mano’s Red Battleship started the match off brightly, with HAGL goalkeeper Huynh Tuan Linh being tested by a 11th minute Ho Chi Minh City free-kick. Bui Van Duc then almost opened the scoring for the away side in the 15th minute, latching onto a teammate’s cross with a close-ranged header, only for the ball to be deflected away into safety by a HAGL defender.
HAGL then had a chance of their own to draw first blood in the 18th minute, with Nguyen Van Toan cutting his way into the Ho Chi Minh City penalty area from the right flank before laying a pass towards Washington Brandao, who directed his shot towards the crossbar. The loose ball was then seized by Nguyen Phong Hong Duy, who sent the ball skywards.
Zico then introduced Cong Phuong in the 31st minute and three minutes after his entrance, the HAGL academy graduate manage to show his former employers what they have missed out on. Cong Phuong danced his way within the Ho Chi Minh City half, sending a diagonal pass into the right flank towards Vu Van Thanh. Van Thanh immediately crossed the ball into the Ho Chi Minh City penalty area, where it was picked up by Tran Minh Vuong. Minh Vuong launched a shot from close-range that was deflected away by Ho Chi Minh City goalkeeper Nguyen Thanh Thang, before Truong Ngoc Muoi attempted to clear the ball away. Ngoc Muoi’s clearance ended up in the possession of Cong Phuong, who slotted home past Ngoc Muoi and two other Ho Chi Minh City defenders as well as Thanh Thang to open the scoreline for HAGL.
Ho Chi Minh City tried to fight back after conceding the opener and they came the closest to equalizing in the first minute of stoppage time. Lee laid the ball off towards Joao Paulo, who in turn sent a through pass towards Dario Junior. Brazilian striker Dario managed to slide the ball through the legs of goalkeeper Tuan Linh, however instead of going into the goal the ball grazed the goalposts, before it was pounced on by a powerful shot from Lee. Unfortunately for Lee and his Red Battleship teammates, the shot was deflected away by an alert HAGL defender, denying Ho Chi Minh City a golden opportunity to tie things up.
Lee’s return to Pleiku was cut short in the 60th minute after the midfielder suffered an injury and had to be taken off, and from there HAGL took control of the proceedings, hitting Ho Chi Minh City hard with their counters. The home side managed to make it 2-0 after 76 minutes, with Cong Phuong allowing Brandao to tore the Ho Chi Minh City defense apart with his ball. The Brazilian then passed the ball towards Van Toan, who easily went around an onrushing Thanh Thang and slotted home into the empty net.
A packed Pleiku Stadium then erupted into further pandemonium in the 82nd minute, after Minh Vuong was fouled by Pham Hoang Lam inside the Ho Chi Minh City penalty box. Minh Vuong, who was celebrating his birthday on the day of the match, took it upon himself to dispatch the resulting penalty and the HAGL academy graduate executed his duty perfectly, with Thanh Thang beaten for the third time in this match. 3-0 HAGL and the result stayed that way as the referee blew for full-time.
The three points solidify HAGL’s standing as V.League 1 leaders for the time being, while Ho Chi Minh City remain stagnant in 12th place thanks to the defeat.
Ho Chi Minh City’s city rivals Sai Gon FC also suffered a horrific night out on Sunday, going down 3-0 at the Thong Nhat Stadium at the hands of Duoc Nam Ha Nam Dinh, while former SHB Da Nang and Kalteng Putra striker Eydison was the man of the match as his two goals sent Than Quang Ninh to a 2-0 Northeast Derby victory over Hai Phong FC at the latter’s Lach Tray Stadium. Last but not least, Viettel managed to eke out a 1-0 win away at Song Lam Nghe An, with captain Bui Tien Dung scoring the winner for the defending champions in the 31st minute.
Round 6 continues on Monday with three more matches – Da Nang traveling to Dong A Thanh Hoa as they seek to halt their 2-match losing streak, Topenland Binh Dinh hosting Becamex Binh Duong at the Quy Nhon Stadium, and Hanoi FC welcoming Hong Linh Ha Tinh to the Hang Day Stadium.