Chúc Mừng Năm Mới!
We’ve said goodbye to the Monkey and welcomed in the Year of the Rooster, which for the V League meant an enforced break of three weeks while the nation celebrated the New Year. Here’s a quick look back at what’s happened in the four rounds played so far.
Thanh Hóa and Hanoi FC set the early pace
FLC Thanh Hóa have set the early pace, recording 3 wins and a draw. Home wins against SLNA and Long An, sandwiched an away 3 points at Khánh Hóa, before being held in an entertaining 2-2 at Bình Duong. It was the game at Khánh Hóa that made the biggest headlines. Thanh Hóa striker, Omar Faye clashed with Nguyen Dinh Nhon and both players received their marching orders. A visibly annoyed Faye, goaded by the home fans, then reacted with some ‘obscene gestures’ towards the main stand. The result, a somewhat over-the-top reaction from the VPF; a whopping 8 match suspension and $1300 fine. The clubs owners, FLC, in turn threatened to withdraw the team from the league. This stance only seemed to make the VPF dig their heels in and responded by saying “It will only take 15 minutes to reschedule the fixtures if a team withdraws”.
Update: after an appeal the suspension has been reduced to 6 matches.
Champions Hà Nội FC (formerly T&T) got off to a flying start when exciting young midfielder, Nguyen Quảng Hai, scored their opening goal of the season after just 3 minutes with a thunderbolt from 25 yards against Cup holders Quảng Ninh. Hà Nội went on to win 3-2, a fine result just a week after losing at home to the same side in the season opening Super Cup. Hà Nội fell to a 2-1 defeat at a windy Tam Kỳ stadium against Quảng Nam in their next match, but followed it up with convincing wins against HAGL (3-0) & HCMC (1-3). New central defender Alvaro Silva looks a solid signing and has even bagged a couple of goals from set pieces.
Hà Nội were dumped out of the AFC Champions League at the 2nd Qualifying round against Hong Kong’s Kitchee. Gonzalo scored a brace but the V League Champions fell to an agonizing 3-2, with the Kitchee winner coming in stoppage time of extra-time. The V.League Champions will now participate in the AFC Cup.
A quick mention for Quảng Nam, one of two sides undefeated so far (the other being Thanh Hóa) sit nicely in 3rd spot with 8 points. The team from the central coast have recorded impressive wins against champions Hà Nội and Cup winners Quảng Ninh (1-3) and a draw with hotly tipped Đà Nẵng. Having lost their main financial backer, QNK, there are doubts looming over the side that finished last season so well, but they have managed to keep hold of powerful striker Claudecir, signed Thiago at the back and have naturalized striker Suleiman among their ranks. If they can make Tam Kỳ a fortress they could be on for a top four finish.
Đà Nẵng will be happy with 7 points and 4th spot so far. The boys in Orange with their wonderful looking new stadium are struggling for goals without their talisman, Gaston Merlo (out with a broken toe) who averaged a goal a game in 2016. In the absence of Merlo,Hà Đức Chinh, signed from Quảng Ninh in pre-season, has risen to the task and bagged 3 goals so far, including a very composed brace to see off Hai Phòng. 19 year old Hà Đức Chinh has been called up to the U23 squad to face Malaysia.
Update: Hà Đức Chinh added a hat-trick against Tây Ninh in the first round of the National cup to make it 6 goals in his last 5 appearances.
HAGL and Cần Thơ are both winless after 4 games.
HAGL seem to be in real trouble early on. Having welcomed back Nguyễn Công Phượng and Tuấn Anh from their loan spells in Japan, the Central Highlands team were still being viewed with an air of skepticism. The young squad, mainly made up of the Arsenal backed JMG Academy, can certainly play attractive ‘academy’ football and have great attacking players in Công Phượng , Nguyễn Văn Toàn and Vũ Văn Thanh. However, with just two goals in four games they lack a striker and in their last run out against Hà Nội it was hard to define who was indeed the actual striker. On a positive, great attacking build-up is supported by Japanese midfielder Ideguchi and a defence strengthened by American Mobi Fehr. When the league kicks off again on 12/Feb they must look to regain the excellent end of season form from last year and score a few goals, and who better to face this weekend than fellow strugglers Cần Thơ .
Cần Thơ, also struggling financially, were thrashed 5-1 by Bình Dương and have only picked up 2 points. The Mekong based club have secured the signings of experienced V.League journeymen Amougou (Bình Dương) and Henry Kisekka (Long An). The Cameroonian and Ugandan strikers respectively, have both represented 6 clubs in Vietnam.
The surprise team hovering in the lower reaches are 2016 Cup Winners Quảng Ninh, in 12th place with just 3 points. 4th place last season they have failed to reproduce their impressive form, falling to defeat against Hanoi, Quảng Nam and rivals Hải Phòng. Coach Phan Thanh Hùng won’t be too worried though as last season they were a slow burner, securing just 4 points from the opening 5 games.
Another team focussing more on youth this season is Bình Dương. The 2015 League Champions bid farewell to a number of experienced players including Đình Luật, Văn Robert and Vietnamese legend Lê Công Vinh. ‘Veteran’ 31 year old striker, Nguyễn Anh Đức, has been the stand out player, leading his young team to a solid 5 points from 4 matches and is also the leagues leading score with 5 goals in his last three outings.