Playing Danang away was a fixture I’d been looking forward to since the start of the season. For many years I’d always hoped my team would be drawn against Blackpool FC or Bournemouth in the latter stages of the FA Cup so I could have a weekend in a beach town, and now Hanoi had been schedule to play on a Friday afternoon in Danang on a rare long weekend in Vietnam. A few days at the beach! This was great and 4 weeks ago I ventured to the train station to secure sleeper train tickets; it’s imperative to buy train tickets early in Vietnam, especially on weekends and holiday. I certainly didn’t fancy a hard seat for a 16 hours journey.
Whenever possible I always prefer train travel, especially in Vietnam, as you can view some of the beautiful scenery passing you by and meet some interesting people. My slight fear of flying also plays a part. Obviously it was dark when we boarded but the real highlight of this particular stretch of railway is once you’ve passed the city of Hue and then continue south towards Danang. The train route clings to the coast line, rewarding you with stunning views of the ocean, small bays and the mountainous (think small) landscape. The journey was very nice, even with what seemed a whole class full of kids playing tag in our carriage and two other children regularly climbing up to take a look at us in the top bunks. Fortunately they fell asleep early.
We woke to beautiful blue skies and enjoyed the stunning views with the window down as the train made a gracefully slow approach towards Danang. Exiting the station we could see the stadium in the distance and excitement levels began to rise. On a brief visit to Danang last year I’d come across the Chi Lang Stadium and was instantly taken by the huge stand with the interestingly designed roof that runs along one side of the stadium and remarked how I’d love to one day take in a game there. Danang and the surrounding regions are well known areas for the local cuisine, especially the street food stalls. With a few hours to kick off we had headed off in search of something to eat; seeing that it was after 1pm most places had shut down after the lunchtime rush but we saw one street side vendor still set up with a few locals enjoying ice teas and snails while they shelter from the sun. The place was mainly serving Bun Cha Ca, one of the foods we’d heard about. A bun noodle soup; made from pumpkin, pineapple and fish sauce, served with fish patties and washed down with delicious ice tea. Tasty and incredibly cheap at 75Cents each.
It was hot, very hot and choosing to walk from the river front to the stadium at 2.30pm turned out to be a bad idea. Along the way I was wondering if any Hanoians would be making the trip, especially since we were asked if we’d be travelling to Danang. Seeing as the game fell on a holiday weekend I was optimistic that some would make it. However, it is far and travel prices aren’t the cheapest on the holidays. As we neared the ground there were already quite a few Danang fans mingling about, enjoying a cold drink in one for the numerous cafés that seem to be ubiquitous to a Vietnamese stadium. It was time to grab some shade and a cold drink. Unlike Thanh Hoa a couple of weeks back it seemed impossible to buy a beer at the cafes here, maybe imposed by the police or iced teas are preferred due to the heat.
This also seemed to be the home of the Banh Mi (meat/pate and vegetable sandwich) with vendors based along the streets and at each entrance allowing you to show your ticket and be searched by the police while your sandwich is being freshly prepared! We took a loop around the stadium in search of the yellow of the T&T fans; the stadium is big and on a very hot day one loop was enough. We figured if any T&T fans made it to the ground we’d somehow move once inside.
Tickets ranged in price from 15-30k ($1-1.50), and we were soon beyond the sandwich sellers and on our way up the stairs, then some more stairs and finally the last set of stairs. We were in the upper tier of this huge stand that I’d previously stared at in awe and were rewarded with stunning views of the stadium, the surrounding city and mountains in the distance. A bit too far from the pitch for my liking though; this coupled with the number of T&T fans that we’d managed to find (which currently stood at zero) was making for a rather flat and dejected feeling compared to the excitement of earlier.
The Danang fan group were setting up in the open stand opposite and had ten large drums in place with each fan seemingly owning a bright orange flag. At least the atmosphere of the home fans would be good. As the players entered the field the Danang drummers were silent, I even commented on this was orchestrated and that the whole stand would erupt as one as the referee blew his whistle. This was going to be electric, it had to be, I’d seen the Danang fans on TV before and they looked impressive. With my camera ready and the Hanoi players having distributed free footballs to the local fans (a ritual that they undertake each match) the referee got the game underway. But somebody forgot to tell the fans. The drummers finally began playing, but only for a few minutes and the flags weren’t raised.
After a few minutes it was clear this was going to be one of those afternoons as a football fan where your eyes start struggling to stay open and 45 minutes seems like an eternity. The pitch was horrendous. Instantly the T&T players were struggling to get their normally flowing passing game underway and short passes of 5 yards were bouncing all over the place. If it wasn’t bobbling around it was high in the air, inevitably resulting in free kick after free kick for high challenges. The grounds man had also decided to make it even more unplayable by dousing the pitch in water prior to kickoff, resulting in large chunks of turf coming up after most challenges.
The Danang players were obviously used to the pitch more than their T&T counterparts and somehow did manage to string a few chances together. Merlo blazed high and wide on 10 minutes, which slightly woke the crowd. Merlo was then sent clear on 27 minutes and sent a first time shot towards the T&T goal which Hong Son saved well, tipping the ball behind for a corner. The Danang attacking players started to link up well with Mrwanda looking particularly impressive and Nguyen Sa sent a strike towards goal through a congested penalty box only for Hong Son to save again. More Danang pressure resulted in two quick corners and a great chance that crashed back of the T&T bar. Getting to half time 0-0 would be a good result for Hanoi, who hadn’t really created anything in the half.
Half Time 0-0. Even the half time music was at a low volume and as the second half kicked off I think I counted 3 other fans clapping and we could hear the players shouting instructions to each other, even right up high in our stand.
Hanoi began brightly and started to press forward and Danang reacted with more of their own pressure and three corners in succession. The game was finally coming to life. That was until the time wasting began. The Argentine striker Merlo was finally booked for Danang on 55 minutes after a nonstop barrage of abuse towards the referee after each decision he gave. The striker should have then received an instant second yellow for sarcastically applauding the referee. As it turns out he wasn’t sent off and Merlo scored the opening goal of the game two minutes later for Danang. A near post header which seemed harsh on Hong Son in the T&T goal, who was having an excellent game. An injustice, but the scoreboard read: Danang 1-0 Hanoi.
The diving and time wasting then hit new heights with any contact made by a T&T player being followed by incredible play acting from the home team; with players rolling a few yards on the turf and sneaking a look to see who was in possession, then jumping back to their feet if one of their teammates had the ball had the ball. Pathetic.
With 20 minutes left Hanoi began to rally, really pushing for the equaliser and the introduction of Ngoc Duy and Duy Nam seemed to have a positive effect. A few half chances from crosses nearly came but it was Mrwanda that broke clear for Danang, once again though Hong Son produced a fine save. The game petered out with more dives and wasted time until the referee finally ended the match. The 12,000 fans didn’t exactly go wild at the final whistle but were certainly happy, or maybe they too were happy it was over.
Overall a 0-1 loss was probably a fair result, seeing as Danang were able to create more clear cut chances and for me the Hanoi Goalkeeper Hong Son was the man of the match, which says it all.
It was still hot in the evening but wandering back to the beautiful riverside area of town was very nice and it was time for more food and an ice cold drink to pick us up.
Da Nang 1 v 0 Ha Noi T&T