As last season’s title race was coming to an end I’d started dreaming of the possibility of following T&T overseas in the AFC cup, with exotic destinations such as the Maldives and Indonesia passing through my mind. The AFC had a surprise in store though, choosing to expand the Asian Champions League and invite the Vietnamese champions into the 1st qualifying. After securing an impressive 3-0 win against Pune FC of India in the first round, T&T would face Thai league runners-up Muang Thong United in Bangkok. Bangkok is closer to Hanoi than Ho Chi Minh city. A no brainer……..I’d certainly be attending this one.
Bangkok’s a big city, a true metropolis of the East that never sleeps. Arriving the day before the game it was decided we needed to explore some of the famous street foods on offer and grab a beer or two. The evening went on…..and on, until it was in fact nearer the morning. Stifled by a crippling Bangkok hangover, match day was a rather lethargic affair.
Muang Thong’s fantastically named Thunderdome Stadium is situated far from the city centre and with the cities usually terribly congested roads, worsened by the ‘Shutdown Bangkok’ anti-government protests I thought best we’d grab a cab early. This was fortunate as nearly an hour later we were back, stationary, outside of our hostel having reached numerous road blocks. I was worried about making kick-off. I began fearing having to use one of the terrifyingly fast motorbike taxi’s for the 14 mile journey.
With plenty of time to spare, thanks to getting on the fast Bangkok elevated highway (which offers great views across the city), we had a chance to mingle with the opposing fans, and even grab some BBQ Thai sausages and an ice cold beer. The site of an Englishman with a HaNoi T&T shirt seemed to confuse many.
The ground is compact, with the classic four-side design. The curva sud housed the ‘ultras’, who were making plenty of noise during the build up; waving hugs flags and banners. It was an impressive scene. Seven thousand or so home fans were making such an atmosphere they’d have outsung many a Premiership side.
Ha Noi T&T were without Keeper Hong Son (due to sickness) with Nguyen Van Cong deputizing and Gonzalo, still struggling with an injury picked up against Ninh Binh could only make the bench. Gallagher and Van Bien would be tasked with containing ex-England (well, one friendly cap anyway) player Jay Bothroyd.
T&T started brightly, playing a confident passing game, seeming to relish the occasion. MTU were fast though, constantly looking to cut through the T&T defence, with direct long balls. T&T pressed, battled hard and were limiting the home side options. The midfield of Sy Cuong, Van Hieu and Ngoc Duy were impressive in their work rate, while still playing a composed passing game when in possession.
The home side made the crucial breakthrough though; a deep cross was superbly kept in by Bothroyd, who flicked the ball back to Mario Durovski (36’), and the Macedonian powered a strike beyong Van Cong. Delirium ensued in the curva sud.
Half time 1-0, albeit a goal down, but I was impressed; T&T always seem to be a better second-half side. There was still a chance.
The second half began in much the same way, T&T passed and moved, hoping to carve out an opening for the tireless Samson upfront. Nguyen Van Cong in goal was also having a fine game, apart from a strange kung-fu tackle (which could have seen a red card issued) he’d pulled off a couple of decent saves and commanded his area with confidence in the biggest game of his career to date.
The game was a niggling affair and tempers had been high. My early prediction of seeing a red card or two came true on the hour, as Ha Noi’s Gallagher was adjudged to have fouled Teersail Dangda when through on goal. A clear red card.
Away from home and 10 men, but I still had belief; football is a place where strange things happen.
Jay Bothroyd had different ideas. On the hour he picked up the ball outside the area and using his pace and power made a direct run at goal, brushing aside attempted tackles before blazing a finish in off the underside of the bar from 9 yards. 2-0, It was a good goal, Bothroyd is clearly still a class player.
Ha Noi didn’t stop though, the midfield continued their pass and press game, and should have set up a tense final 12 minutes. Fine work from Van Quyet set sup Samson, but with just Visanusak to beat , the T&T striker saw his shot rattle the crossbar.
The game ended with slight drama as Samson and MTU substitute Atit clashed off the ball and both received red cards deep in to stoppage time. FT 2-0. I was gutted; with the team impressing, my belief had grown throughout, along with the players who were visually distraught at the end. The home fans around me had worked out I was a fan of T&T and gleefully said their goodbyes on their way to the exits.
There was time for one more impressive display by the home fans. As the team completed a lap of appreciation the Ultra’s began a song while the players lined up in front of the stand. Maybe the national anthem or a club anthem perhaps, I don’t know. The scene was great and ended with bright red flares being lit and the players departed hidden by the smoke.
Muang Thong United 2 v 0 Hà Nội T&T
Mario Durovski (36’)
Jay Bothroyd 62′ att. 7,927