V.League 1 leaders Hoang Anh Gia Lai have announced an ominous warning to their chasing pack in Sunday’s Round 10 action. Facing off against Hanoi FC – whom the Mountain Men had failed to beat in the past four years – at the Pleiku Stadium, HAGL managed to squeak out a 1-0 win in what was the biggest test in their ascendency so far. Victory against a star-studded (albeit inconsistent) Hanoi side meant that HAGL had beaten three out of last season’s top five teams, with the Mountain Men only suffering defeat against Sai Gon FC in Round 1 and having yet to play Than Quang Ninh. The three points also qualified HAGL to the upcoming championship group in the second half of the 2021 season.
Defending champions Viettel FC also accompany HAGL to the championship group thanks to their performance in Round 10, kicking-off the matchweek with a 2-1 win over Quang Ninh at the Hang Day Stadium on Friday. An own goal from Dao Duy Khanh and a goal from Caique Lemes in the first half was enough for Viettel to claim all three points, with Quang Ninh only mustering an Eydison goal in the 48th minute as consolation.
Saturday’s Round 10 games saw 10-man Sai Gon being held to a goalless draw by Hai Phong FC at the Thong Nhat Stadium, as last year’s third placers found themselves still stuck second bottom in the V.League 1 table. With the huge overhaul to the playing squad over the off-season clearly bringing more harm than good, the Sai Gon management has decided to terminate the contracts of Daisuke Matsui, Hiroyuki Takasaki, and Woo Sang-ho in a bid to refresh the club’s playing staff. 40-year old Matsui’s aging legs were unable to keep up with the densely scheduled V.League 1, while both Hiroyuki and Woo have failed to impress head coach Phung Thanh Phuong with their on-field performances.
In response to the three players’ contract terminations, Sai Gon have moved quickly to secure replacements. Former Ho Chi Minh City FC defender Pape Diakite was drafted in to shore up the defense while midfielder Ryutaro Karube, who was initially registered as an AFC Cup-exclusive player, was also registered into Sai Gon’s V.League 1 squad for the second half of the season. The club are also looking for a foreign striker to solve their scoring woes, with Sai Gon having only scored three goals so far this season, all of them being scored by naturalized striker Do Merlo.
Saturday’s Round 10 action also saw the latest edition of the Nghe-Tinh Derby, with bottom-of-the league Hong Linh Ha Tinh making that short journey across the Ben Thuy Bridge to visit close neighbors Song Lam Nghe An at the Vinh Stadium. Ha Tinh came into Saturday’s derby with a new face in the dugout – former Sai Gon and Quang Nam FC head coach Nguyen Thanh Cong was overseeing his first match as Ha Tinh head coach following longtime head coach Pham Minh Duc’s resignation and he managed to lead his charges to their second win of the season. Goals from Chevaughn Walsh and Pham Tuan Hai brought SLNA to their knees in front of their own supporters as Ha Tinh ran out 2-0 winners at the Vinh Stadium.
Dong A Thanh Hoa were also victorious on Saturday, as a single goal from Le Quoc Phuong two minutes before half-time earned them a 1-0 win away at Topenland Binh Dinh.
Sunday saw the biggest match of Round 10 being played out, with Hanoi paying league leaders HAGL a visit. The Capital Team ran out 4-0 winners the last time they visited the Pleiku Stadium however underneath Kiatisuk Senamuang the Mountain Men had transformed into a different kind of beast. Gone were a side incapable of winning games away from home that were plagued with inconsistencies and haunted by a leaky defense, as Coach Zico managed to turn them into an efficient, ruthless, and hungry unit.
Hanoi received reinforcements in the buildup of Sunday’s showdown with the return of captain Nguyen Van Quyet from suspension and Bruno Cantanhede from injury, however Hoang Van Phuc’s men were powerless to stop HAGL from implementing their devastating counterattacks. HAGL’s three-man defense managed to snuff out Hanoi’s dangerous attackers while their “shoot-on-sight” policy created a number of long-ranged shots that kept Hanoi goalkeeper Bui Tan Truong up on his toes.
The game’s eventual winning goal, scored by HAGL midfielder Luong Xuan Truong in the 34th minute, was one such long-ranged effort, with the former Incheon United, Gangwon FC, and Buriram United man firing off a screamer from outside the Hanoi penalty area that caught Tan Truong off-guard. The goal was Xuan Truong’s first for HAGL since 2019 and it brought the 25-year old to tears as he celebrated with the HAGL fans at a fully-packed Pleiku Stadium.
Despite Hanoi’s best efforts they were unable to get themselves back in the game as their attackers were effectively silenced by HAGL’s defense, while the hosts were quite wasteful after going 1-0 up and they should’ve added more to their tally should they took advantage of their chances. Nonetheless HAGL managed to sit on their slender lead all the way into full time and the three points allowed the Mountain Men to retain their stranglehold on the V.League 1 summit.
Sunday’s other Round 10 results saw Becamex Binh Duong winning 1-0 over SHB Da Nang at the Go Dau Stadium, in a match that saw Nguyen Thanh Son once again assuming the role of the Eastern Whirlwind’s head coach for a fourth stint due to previous head coach Phan Thanh Hung stepping down from his role to focus on his recovery from heart issues. Meanwhile at the Thien Truong Stadium, hosts Duoc Nam Ha Nam Dinh managed to edge out Ho Chi Minh City 3-2 thanks to a brace from Oussou Konan, despite Lam Ti Phong scoring a brace of his own to give Ho Chi Minh City a 2-1 lead in the second half. The two sides had to finish the match with 10 men after the dismissals of Nam Dinh’s Phan Van Hieu and Ho Chi Minh City’s Lee Nguyen in the second and seventh minute of injury time respectively.