Southeast Asia Vietnam

Struggling HAGL Earn First Win of Season Over Off-Color Hanoi

LPBank-Hoang Anh Gia Lai finally earned their first win of the 2023/24 V.League 1 season on Wednesday after the strugglers overcame an out-of-sorts Hanoi FC 2-0 at the Pleiku Stadium.

Kiatisuk Senamuang’s HAGL side has been undergoing a decline of performance since topping the 2021 V.League 1 table prior to its abolishment. The Mountain Men finished 6th in 2022 and 10th in 2023, as well as losing a number of key players throughout the period. Nguyen Cong Phuong went to Yokohama FC, Luong Xuan Truong went to Hai Phong FC, while Nguyen Van Toan went off to Thep Xanh Nam Dinh via South Korean second-tier side Seoul E-Land.

As for their foreign stars from that period, star striker Washington Brandao flew off to Bangladesh to play for Abahani Dhaka Limited, Pape Diakite was released from his contract, while Paollo Madeira was tragically killed in a car accident at the end of the 2023 season.

Adding the departures of Nguyen Phong Hong Duy (Nam Dinh), Vu Van Thanh (Cong An Ha Noi), and Huynh Tuan Linh (released) into the equation, practically only Nguyen Tuan Anh and Tran Minh Vuong who remained as HAGL’s senior figures for this season. Though the duo were complimented by a crop of talented youngsters fresh off the club academy, as well as Jhon Cley, last season’s top-scorer who came to Pleiku on loan from CAHN.

The 2023/24 season went off to a horrible start for HAGL, with the Mountain Men failing to win any of their opening seven matches, losing five and drawing two. Things got so bad that Coach Zico admitted that HAGL’s current campaign was the “worst period of his career, as player and as head coach.”

A Hanoi side fresh from stunning Urawa Red Diamonds in the AFC Champions League were HAGL’s next opponents, the last one before the league enters a month-long break to accommodate for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup in Qatar this coming January. Many expected that HAGL would succumb to yet another painful defeat, but what happened on Wednesday was exactly the opposite.

A Hoang and Cley secured a two-goal advantage for HAGL in a spirited first half at the Pleiku Stadium and despite facing intense pressure from Hanoi’s forwards, goalkeeper Phan Dinh Vu delivered remarkable saves, granting his team their first three points of the season.

Zico expressed that the team had been eager for a victory to climb out of the bottom of the table, deeming the win was a fitting reward for their hard work. He extended gratitude to the recently appointed technical director Vu Tien Thanh, who had collaborated with him for only four days. Tien Thanh had previously served as the head coach of Ho Chi Minh City FC, before he left the Red Battleship to take over the vacant technical director spot in Pleiku.

Zico remarked on their effective partnership, stating, “While I am relatively relaxed with my players, he is a tough individual, creating a complementary dynamic. We will continue our discussions to determine the optimal approach for the team in the upcoming period.”

Despite the win against Hanoi, HAGL  remains in the bottom spot, trailing Hong Linh Ha Tinh and Khanh Hoa FC by just one point. Nevertheless, Zico believes the victory has provided the club with a crucial morale boost heading into the Asian Cup break.