This was the first match of the season in southern Vietnam for T&T, with opponents, Binh Duong, being based around 30km north of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). We decided to spend the weekend in Saigon and travel out for the game on Sunday afternoon. Saigon seems much bigger than Hanoi and is rapidly developing in to a South East Asian mega city.
After two nights in Saigon, the day of the game finally came and I was excited to be visiting a new stadium and watching Hanoi take on the team once dubbed ‘the Chelsea of Vietnam’ due to their financial clout. On this occasion its seems money can’t buy success as Binh Duong had managed one point from their first 6 matches and sat at the foot of the Vleague. I was definitely confident of another 3 points on the road.
After filling up on a steaming bowl of Pho we wandered to the bus station; armed with a piece of paper with the name of our destination, things surely couldn’t go wrong. And they didn’t. I forget sometimes that the level of English spoken in Saigon is much higher than that of Hanoi and the old man at the bus terminal glanced up and fluently said “take bus 16, over there, make sure you cross over to the back. Oh they come every 40 minutes.” Which made me think; is its moments like this that add to the ease of life in the south for the many expats that vacate Hanoi but wish to stay in Vietnam?
I’ve always enjoyed catching buses in new towns, especially when heading through the outer suburbs and in to more rural areas. This journey took around an hour until we were ushered off on the side of a main road with no real ‘town’ or ‘city’ in sight; just some industrial units and street food vendors taking a nap. Conveniently though, the stadium was just across the road and with the afternoon heat it was necessary to find a cafe to hang out in.
The Stadium, San van dong Go Dau, looked nice and modern from the outside and as kick off approached we needed to find some tickets, and fast, as the wind was picking up and the sky started to look very angry and promised a downpour. Loitering around outside we were unable to find any ticket booths or small tables synonymous to most grounds. Instead there were a couple of touts offering tickets at 100k each, easily the most expensive we’d come across. There was a lot of confusion as we wished to buy tickets for the general entrance and not the 100k VIP covered section.
Eventually some police just ushered us in through a gate and we headed up in to the stand without paying. Another game without paying? It turns out no one pays for the general admission sections, which make up over 3/4 of the ground. This was great and I started to imagine Roman Abramovich offering the same at Stamford Bridge……which brought a wry smile to my face.
I had been contacted by a T&T fan based in the south, who would also be in attendance at this game and eventually we found each other in the packed main stand. It wasn’t hard; he was the only person in the stadium wearing a yellow T&T shirt and we were the only two foreigners in the stadium. Ha Noi T&T had 3 fans in attendance……a 50% increase on the previous away game in Da Nang!
With kick off approaching the Binh Duong fans, with at least ten huge drums, were making plenty of noise and the traditional Chinese style dragon dancing and acrobats were a great addition to the pre-match entertainment. The pitch was in beautiful condition too. As the players entered the field the drummers strangely fell silent; were the home fans going to stay silent then erupt in to huge noise as the referee blew his whistle? Which would have been reminiscent of an Arsenal away match at West Brom I attended, when their fans raised the roof right on kick-off. The referee did blow his whistle and possible 100 people clapped, but the roof was certainly not raised, it seemed 40 minutes of pre match partying had taken it out of the home fans and it was time to relax for a while and let the players do the work.
During the opening stages T&T dominated possession with nice passing moves but it was Binh Duong that looked the more threatening. On 21 minutes a simple through ball defied the Ha Noi defence and Binh Duong’s Philani race cleared to slot past Son in the T&T goal. 1-0 Binh Duong. T&T responded well, continuing with their passing game. A nice move down the left side on 27 minutes led to Gonzalo smashing in the equaliser after a great cut back. 1-1 and Ha Noi were looking good.
It was then Binh Duong’s turn to respond well and the front paring of Philani and Emmanuel for were looking particularly dangerous, I was starting to wonder how this team had failed to win a game all season. On 33 minutes it was Emmanuel that picked up the ball some 25 yards out towards the corner of the box, not the most threatening area; however he unleashed an amazing strike that flew beyond Son and right in to the top far corner of the goal. 2-1 Binh Duong.
During half time I was quietly confident Ha Noi would easily take hold of the game, overall T&T had more quality on the pitch, but football doesn’t always work like that. The second half kicked off in silence once again and within a minute Emmanuel had poked home after Son in the T&T goal could only palm a cross in to his path. 3-1 Binh Duong.
The game then really opened up; T&T had some good pressure, but it was Binh Duong who began showboating and they missed a great header to kill off the game. Okon then drilled another thunderbolt just wide as the home team’s confidence went sky high. The rather large Van Santos in the Binh Duong goal then defied his size by making two great reflex saves late on, but it was the home team who had the last chance to finish the game off as they broke the length of the field only for Son to make a fine save.
The final whistle blew, 3-1, Binh Duong had secured their first win of the season and Ha Noi had lost a real opportunity to close the gap on the top of the table. The homes fans were obviously delighted as we said goodbye to our new friend and quietly slipped away and headed for the main road to flag down any vehicle heading in the direction of Saigon.
Binh Duong 3 v 1 Ha Noi T&T
S.Emmanuel 46′ Att. 12,000