When it was announced Guillaume Graechen would lead the first batch of young players from the famed JMG Arsenal backed academy in Gia Lai Province, in this seasons VLeague 1, fans across the country sat up and paid interest. Many of these players had already drawn huge crowds representing the Vietnam U19 team in both Hanoi and HCMC.
Fans across the country have flocked to their matches, selling out each of their home fixtures and drawing huge attendances at the likes of Long An and Hai Phong. I’d been looking forward to this one for a long time; not because of these stars, I’d been fortunate to see them play at the Hang Day recently in a friendly against T&T, but the thought of a huge crowd taking over the Hang Day, reminiscent of SLNA’s visit in 2013.
For the first time I was able to purchase tickets in advance, 6 days in fact, unheard of in these parts. The small band of HaNoi T&T young fans, who oddly call themselves the ‘Contras’ is slowly growing, while it seemed everyone who had ever owned a Yellow T&T Fan shirt had turned up. An hour before kick-off and the stands were rocking; T&T with their two sets of supporters making noise in response to the lively band of travelling support form Gia Lai. Hats off to 50 fans who had made the 1,500km journey by bus. My own band of ‘tays’ had hit 7 for the big match.
Coach Hung deployed Cyrus in the centre of midfield, with Van Bien and Hoa in central defence. Possible due to HAGL not possessing any height upfront or due to the absence of T&T’s Hector. Either way it was a great move as the player often referred to as ‘Yaya Toure’ in the stands, set up the opening two goals. Firstly, driving forward and swinging in a beautiful cross for Samson to nod home before showing great feet to skip past two defenders and send in another pinpoint cross for Gonzalo to dispatch with a diving header.
On 33 minutes Samson showed his pace to latch on to a through ball from Cyrus, and having beaten the keeper was brought down. Red card! Maybe the ref has seen way too much EPL recently and booked the defender! Văn Quyết stepped up and made no mistake as T&T raced in to a 30 lead.
Nguyễn Công Phượng, the ‘Vietnamese Messi’ woke just before the break. Running in to a brick wall of T&T defenders, he turned, composed and decided to have another go. This time beating one player he sent through a fantastic sliderule pass for Van Toan, who was subsequently brought down by Hanoi’s Van Bien. Again no red car. Lê Văn Sơn dispatched the penalty beyond Sơn in the T&T goal.
HAGL’s jubilant fan celebrations were short lived though. Just a minute later, Gonzalo flicked on for Samson, who, surrounded by three defenders showed great strength to poke the ball beyond Minh Nhut. Half time, 4-1.
T&T sat back in the second half, seemingly opting to play on the break, especially after Samson had been replaced by Thanh Luong. It was Hanoi who should have extended to their lead when Van Quyet raced clear down the left flank and sent in a perfect pass for Gonzalo, who saw his shot well saved by the keeper’.
The visitors were growing in confidence and when Thanh Tung was brought down by T&T’s Quoc Long (again no red!) , up stepped Công Phượng who confidently scored the games third penalty and reduce the deficit to 4-2 At this point my friend Cuong taped me on the shoulder “Bill, you remember Quang Nam? 4-4” We both laughed nervously and thought in a respective languages “oh shit, not again”.
Each time a blue shirt picked up the ball the crowd roared the team forward, making it evident that most were not supporting T&T. Deep in to stoppage time Công Phượng sent in a long ball and totally unmarked Lê Đức Lương headed in for 4-3. The fans around us were frantic, game on they thought.
But the ref had other ideas, as that was the last kick of the game and T&T had held on for a first win in five, but the plaudits will once again go to the young team who battled well and showed great commitment. But in the all honesty they were not a match for the brilliance and dominance Hanoi showed in the first half.
At the start of the season I’d asked a friend what will happen to HAGL if they get relegated and this ambitious project fails? Surely it the would be damaging to the future of Vietnamese football?” the response,” haha, no one’s thought of that!” The team currently lie two points off the bottom.
Hà Nội T&T 4- 3 Hoàng Anh Gia Lai
Samson 18′ 45′ Lê Văn Sơn 44′
Gonzalo 27′ Nguyễn Công Phượng (44) 72′
Văn Quyết 33′ Lê Đức Lương (61) 93′
Hàng Đẫy: 15,000