Đồng Tháp Province, set far in the south of Vietnam in the Mekong Delta, sharing a boarder with Cambodia, was to be my latest destination on the road with Ha Noi T&T. I’d not been to a new away match since T&T drew a 3-3 at Quang Nam, exactly two years ago as I write this! Australian defender Sam Gallagher scored a belter that day!
Cao Lãnh, the Provincial capital is 730 miles (1176km) from Hanoi as the crow flies, making it one of the longest away trips in the country for T&T this year, second only to neighboring Can Tho, the larger city where I’d decided to base myself (and try to fit in their home match against Thanh Hoa) . The region is famed for its massive waterways, fresh produce and amazing array of noodle soups.
Once landed, I was excited to be able to see the Cần Thơ stadium from my hotel, far away over a couple of bridges and surrounded by different stretches of this massive river. It’s hot in the South, 37C to be precise. The skies were blue and the pace of life much slower than what I am accustomed to in Hanoi.
The food was great, and even before we met friends for dinner I’d managed to sneak a bowl of local veggie Hu Tieu (noodle soup). There’s was a live boxing tournament in one of the parks. The team from Hanoi trained near us and I instantly felt some loyalty towards them and wondered how they’d fair in the evening heat of Cần Thơ.
Some hours later, around 1am, it all started going a little bit wrong. Something I’d eaten had not agreed with me. The next 7 hours were spent familiarizing myself with the hotel bathroom and our early morning trip on the Mekong was never going to happen. This was a pretty bad one, maybe a 7/10 on the food poisoning scale for me (I’ve had a few instances over the last 8 years in Asia!). I was floored, unable to attend the Cần Thơ match, although I watched it on TV with the floodlights lighting up the window behind, which was kind of strange.
After numerous hydration salts and Revives (a pretty good Lucozade style drink available here) I woke up the following morning and found myself bobbing along the Mekong River heading out of central Cần Thơ. If there’s ever a remedy to reinvigorate yourself after prolonged puking I’d certain suggest floating along the peaceful backwaters of this awesome river.
Having not consumed any solid food for over 36 hrs and it being 37C I went fancy and booked myself a driver to take us the 40 miles to Cao Lãnh, home to what would be the 16th stadium of my VLeague travels. The journey was amazing as we soon lost count of how many large and small bridges we crossed, and the number of stilt houses that perched along the riverbanks.
The stadium was somewhat hidden on the outskirts of town, the ends covered in overgrown trees. A few cafes offered some shade as fans gradually began arriving. I also managed to pick up a couple of official Đồng Tháp shirts, something of a rarity in the VLeague.
Bar the few players, it seems pretty certain we were the only foreigners at the match (receiving an unhealthy amount of stares for the next 2hrs). The only T&T fans for the first 20 minutes too, until 3 members of the southern T&T fan group arrived, we met up after but sat separately as we were already paid up and in the shade of the upper tier (tickets: 50,000 VND = $2.25).
Hà Nội T&T, fresh of their first win of the season last week at Long An stuck with their new lucky purple shirts with white socks & shorts combo. Gonzalo & Samson remained upfront with Nguyễn Quang Hải in the middle of the park. With just minutes on the clock T&T showed there intent as Gonzalo found himself in acres of space inside the box only to see his effort come crashing back off the bar.
It didn’t take long though for T&T’s early dominance to break through as Đỗ Hùng Dũng finished from close range (my loud solo cheers meant more uneasy stares) before making a wonderful run from deep and setting up Gonzalo for the second. It was then the turn of the Samson’s; Dong Thap’s Samson Kpenosen scored an acrobatic bicycle kick just before the break to give the half time score line a much closer appearance the performance suggested. Note: Lisa regarded the half time Banh Mi as one of the best she has had in Vietnam. A bold statement.
T&T’s Samson tapped in from close range after 54’ only to see Marko Šimić pull one back for the home side 10 minutes later. After a few minutes of a mini revival from Dong Thap, T&T’s Samson Kayode wrapped up the points with a brace to record his first hat trick of the season and in the process surpassed Le Cong Vinh as the VLeagues all-time top scorer.
T&T, having scored just twice in the first five matches of the season, have now recorded back-to-back 5-2 victories. With 19 games to play, 14 points behind Hai Phong (after their 100% start to the season) is this the start of T&T’s title charge? Last season T&T secured 10 points from the opening 10 matches, before finishing runners-up to Binh Duong, so technically we’re perfectly placed to challenge for the title….that’s how that works right?
Đồng Tháp 2–5 Hà Nội T&T
Đồng Tháp: Samson Kpenosen 47′, Marko Simic 64′
Hà Nội T&T: Đỗ Hùng Dũng 11′; Gonzalo 35′, Samson 54′ 74′ 86′
Cao Lãnh stadium: 4,000