After last’s week impressive draw in Vinh against SLNA Ha Noi T&T would face another tough task, with Thanh Hoa visiting the capital city. Early rumours online were suggesting Thanh Hoa would bring 10,000 fans to the Hang Day stadium as the team vied for a top three finish, while others were suggesting thousands of SLNA fans would turn up to encourage a Thanh Hoa victory, thus denting Ha Noi’s title ambitions.
The VFF has decided that all games in the last three rounds of the season will have the same kick off times, presumably to avoid any match fixing and/or ‘a lack of effort’ by any teams. Ha Noi T&T would again be missing Cristiano through injury and the suspended full back Quoc Long. Hong Son would return to goal, meaning the hero of Vinh, Van Cuong, would drop to the bench. Gonzalo would remain a defender and impressive youngster Sam Ngoc Duy would retain his place at full back. I’d been constantly informed this was the match; a win today would mean the title was T&T’s, not mathematically but ‘as good as’ according the fans.
Excited by the prospect of the Hang Day being flooded with away fans and being confident of a home win, I headed early to the stadium. The sun was scorching but this didn’t stop the Thanh Hoa fans coming in impressive numbers, not quite the 10,000 as promised but a great turn out. As I wandered around the stadium taking in the atmosphere I drifted back to our visit for the reverse fixture in April, involving my first TV interview and a great 3-2 win for Ha Noi. Thanh Hoa were good that day, but T&T easily have more quality than them.
It was far too hot to be outside, within minutes I was covered in sweat, so I wandered back past the stadium barbers, purchased a ticket and sought some shade inside. Fans gathered quickly, Ha Noi seemed to have gained a few thousand overnight, the glory hunters maybe? Or just plain clothed SLNA fans? It was busy none the less and my new friend Long had held a seat for me amongst the younger, replica shirt-wearing fans.
The hot air seemed to be filled with a real buzz of excitement; the drums were in place early, the fans were in early to claim ‘their’ seats and the noisy quarter of the stadium allocated to Thanh Hoa was heaving with energized fans.
T&T started well, taking the lead through a Samson (8’) penalty and dominated the game, the fans around me were in decent voice, with Truong (Ngoc Duy’s brother) leading the chanting. Ha Noi were comfortable with half time approaching, Thanh Hoa had begun to press and were awarded their own penalty which Čeh (44’) calmly scored. Like Ha Noi’s Cristiano, Thanh Hoa’s Nastja Čeh has also had a decent top flight career in Europe, with one supporter proudly informing me “You know, he’s played Champions League with Club Brugge, but he’s not as good as Cristiano, he played for Benfica!”.
Half time 1-1; we were stunned; suddenly things began taking a different turn, especially as SLNA were themselves leading 2-0. The half time entertainment was similar to recent weeks; the ‘away’ fans had packed themselves so tightly in to be nearer the halfway line that inevitably people were beginning to be crushed. This in turn led to police intervention, which led to small fights breaking out and a few objects being thrown, not on a large scale but enough for the Hanoians to dismissively claim “they’re not from Thanh Hoa, they’re Nghe An (the province where SLNA are located) people, the crazy ones”. A few people were arrested before the police finally allowed them to spill over in to an adjacent empty block.
Ha Noi came out strong, Gonzalo had turned in to a defensive rock in recent weeks and young Sam Ngoc Duc was impressing yet again. Thanh Luong and the rest of the midfield were working tirelessly. For three minutes the Thanh Hoa/SLNA fans were in fine voice, until Samson grabbed his 16th goal of the season to put T&T 2-1 ahead. Long was again raving in my ear about Ha Noi’s ‘sexy football’.
Ha Noi pressed and pressed but missed a host of chances to score before another penalty was awarded. This time Ngoc Duy (79’) stepped up and coolly converted, 3-1; T&T were home and dry. The relief was met with great scenes in the home end around me as fans were jumping around in celebration; some were even swinging their shirts around their heads! This was a scene of real emotion I’d not seen so far inside the Hang Day Stadium.
Duy Nam and Huu Phouc were introduced to kill time. However, nothing seems to be straight forward when following T&T, as Thanh Hoa continued with sporadic breaks forward and were awarded the fourth penalty of the game, which Čeh (90’) converted with ease, 3-2. The final 5 minutes of added time were to be a little nervy. On the final whistle Long turns and says ‘now we can relax’, convinced the title was in the bag, then hurried off to try and have a chat with injured captain Cristiano.
With two games remaining T&T just need to win them both to secure the title, however SLNA are just two points behind. There’s still time for a few more nerves but hopefully a win in the final away match of the season against Long An will help to ease them, before rivals Hai Phong come to the capital on the last day of the season.
Ha Noi T&T 3 v 2 Thanh Hoa
Samson 8′ Nastja Čeh 50′
Samson 48′ Nastja Čeh 90′
Ngoc Duy 79′ Att. 12,000