Your regular blogger was last seen heading to the beach with friends who are visiting from England. Therefore, not only have I had to do his work for him this week but I’ve had to accompany his girlfriend to the football and write his blog for him. This was the first home game since the surprisingly exciting top-of-the table clash against Song Lam Nghe An that had been played out in front of thousands of away fans. This game promised to be a much more sedate affair. The opponents, Kien Giang, come from Rach Gia, close to the Cambodian border some 1600 km and a minimum of two flights away from Hanoi – unsurprisingly there weren’t any away fans in evidence. On the pitch Kien Giang had only won for the first time the previous week in their seventh game of the season while Hanoi T&T had lost two away games in a row.
Walking to the ground a few minutes before kick-off the streets were quiet and the girl at the ticket table even had time to pose for a photo Inside the ground a reasonably healthy crowd of a few thousand had turned up for this Sunday teatime game, although given the size of Hanoi’s population it’s a shame that a few more locals can’t be bothered to turn out and support the only team in the top division. Rumour has it that many begrudge paying a couple of dollars to watch Vietnamese football when they can watch higher standard foreign football for free in their nearest cafe. The one good thing, though, is that the crowd is made up a complete cross-section of society from heavily pregnant women and little babies to gossiping old men. Near us one young lady looked like she was still dressed for Saturday night, complete with twisted bra straps on display, while beside us a young man smoked the sort of very thin cigarette long out of fashion in the West. Also behind us a girl of about 12 barely looked up from her phone for the entire match while her younger sister enjoyed the regular flow of snacks her father was plying her with to keep her quiet.
As for the match itself the weather largely dictated the nature of the football. This is the start of the the monsoon season here in Hanoi and this game was played in the sort of hot and humid conditions that make sitting and watching feel like hard work. Therefore both teams decided not to bother too much with running around a lot in midfield and instead concentrated on attack and defence so at times, particularly towards the end of the first half, it felt like watching a training ground practice session. What saved the game as a spectacle, though, was the differing styles of the teams. Kien Giang, with four foreigners in their team despite supposedly only being allowed three, concentrated on more of a long ball game. T&T’s sizeable foreign defender Cristiano was not playing so Kien Giang hoped to take advantage of the lack of height in defence with a series of high crosses. Although T&T rarely looked comfortable Kien Giang failed to create any real chances during the first half, though they did have the ball in the back of the net after 5 minutes following a comically blatant push on T&T keeper Duong Hong Son.
At the other end T&T were playing some neat passing football, getting in behind the Kien Giang defence and creating plenty of chances. Early on one player failed to control the ball when put through on goal while another Gonzalo had a fine shot well saved by the keeper and T&T also hit the bar. Despite all this pressure, and clearly being the better side, it took an error from Thien Thinh Thang in the Kien Giang goal for them to get their first goal. Under little pressure he dropped a cross at the feet of two oncoming strikers and in the ensuing scramble bought down T&T’s Samson. At the time this looked to be a clear-cut penalty, though watching again on TV later it seemed a little less certain. Samson picked himself up and scored the penalty, which was met with modest applause from the home fans who seemed not to want to work up too much of a sweat by cheering too raucously, and 1-0 was the half-time score.
Unfortunately Hanoi failed to start the second half in the same dominant fashion. Although nothing much happened for the first ten minutes their sleepiness then led to a flurry of chances for Kien Giang. Having just hit the bar they then forced Duong Hong Son to pull off a stunning double save, though the striker should perhaps have done better with the second chance. Anyway the keeper had redeemed himself after his poor performance the week before. These near misses were enough to wake T&T up, though, and there followed 5 minutes of impressively clinical football which would decide the game. Firstly they broke through Kien Giang’s offside trap allowing Gonzalo to finish powerfully from about 15 yards out. Four minutes later Thang in the Kien Giang goal failed to deal with another shot and Samson scored his second from the loose ball. And at 3-0 that was pretty much it. Kien Giang had played well and contributed fully to the match but after the two quick goals had nothing left either mentally or physically so T&T dominated possession for the rest of the game. Apart from 2 more goals not much more happened as the game drifted towards its conclusion. The fourth came after T&T had hit the bar and a tired defence failed to clear a loose ball properly and the fifth, in injury time, when T&T seemed to decide they wanted one more and Gonzalo pretty much walked the ball into the net after some effective passing around a defence that was almost non-existent.
Overall this was an impressive performance by T&T. Kien Giang competed well for the first hour but the home team could probably scored more goals if they wanted to. The keeper and defence coped well without Cristiano while the midfield passed the ball well to create the chances for the two foreign strikers. As usual Gonzalo seemed to do very little all game but still ended up with two goals. Samson, by contrast, was by a long way the best player on the pitch – faster, stronger and more skilful than everyone else. It is something of a mystery how foreign players end up in Vietnam but you would have thought he could be playing at a higher standard, and making more money, elsewhere. Overall, though this wasn’t an especially exciting game, and the atmosphere was rarely anything more than sedate, this was an enjoyable afternoon. Vietnamese football often has a bad reputation but there was plenty of skill on display and T&T looked fit and strong right to the end of the while there was mercifully little of the rolling around and gamesmanship that can sometime ruin these matches. As I lingered behind at the end to take a few more photos I watched the T&T players. Surprisingly they hadn’t headed straight back to the cool of the dressing room but were standing around chatting at the side of the pitch as relaxed as if they had just finished a casual kick around in the park with their mates. A few even came over to the stand to chat to family and friends while Son the keeper collected his kid.
Ha Noi T&T 5 v 0 Kien Giang
73′ Ngoc Duy
90+1 Gonzalo Att. 4000
Thanks to Chris Whiff for the write up.