The excitement of this year’s VLeague was temporarily halted for the international break, where Vietnam secured there first qualification for the AFC Cup since 1960 (excluded qualifying as joint hosts in 2007).
The penultimate round of the season provides arguably the biggest tie of the campaign with league leaders Quang Nam traveling to reigning champions and second placed Hanoi FC. The contrast between the two sides couldn’t be greater; Hanoi; the northern powerhouse back by the wealthy T&T group and sponsored by SCG up against Quang Nam; located in the provincial capital City (term used lightly) of Tam Ky, population 81,000. Before the season kicked off, rumors circulated that they were in financial trouble, and were tipped to be battling for VLeague survival, not dominance*.
There’s been 10 league & cup meetings between the two, with an average of 4.2 goals per game. Hanoi have won 4 to Quang Nam’s 2, however Quang Nam won the reverse this year 2-1 in Tam Ky thanks to goals from Suleiman and Thiago.
Quang Nam’s main threat will come in attack from the strength and finishing ability of Claudecir, who has caused Hanoi’s defence problems over the last two seasons, and will be supported by the impressive Dinh Thanh Trung in midfield.
Hanoi added some much needed strength to the front line when Oseni signed from now relegated Long An in the midseason break. The former U17 World Cup winner with Nigeria has bagged 5 in his last 6 appearances. Defence has often been Hanoi’s weakness this season with injuries, suspensions and surprise omissions resulting in an inconsistent back line. Youngster, Văn Hậu, will be hoping to retain his place after impressing again in the National team jersey against Afghanistan in midweek. Bizarrely the youngster has made more starts for the National team this year than for his club side.
3RD placed Thanh Hòa host 4th placed Khánh Hòa, with both teams still in the hunt for a maiden title.
Thanh Hòa have won 4 of the 5 encounters between the two sides, including a 0-2 win in Nha Trang back in January with goals from Văn Bình and Uche. The visitors are on fine form, being undefeated in their last 6, while Thanh Hoa’s momentum drastically dropped off having spent 18 weeks on top of the table, they now find themselves with just one win from the last five.
Manageress TP.HCM travel to Quang Ninh, who mathematically can still win their first league title. Last year’s National Cup winners need to win both games by lots of goals and cross their fingers.
With Long An already relegated, we have 9 teams with nothing to play for in these last two rounds, so some have opted on preparing for next year a little ahead of time. TP.HCM fired Coach Alain Fiard after a run of 2 wins from the last 16. Former national team boss Henrique Calisto is rumored to be taking over.
Moving up the coast, it will be an emotional match at the Hòa Xuân stadium as Le Hyunh Duc takes charge of Danang for the final time (v Saigon FC), bringing an end to a 10 year relationship.
The former National team striker led the Danang to the title in 2009 & 2012, as well as the cup in 2009 & 2013.
Further North there is still some confusion at Hai Phong, where Coach Trương Việt Hoàng handed in his resignation (and instantly linked to the vacant job in Danang) yet the club are refusing to comment on whether they accept the resignation. They face a resurgent HAGL, now undefeated in 3.
Elsewhere, Can Tho host SLNA and Binh Duong host Long An.
And finally, Hanoi FC (T&T) legend, striker, captain and occasional centre half, Gonzalo Marronkle has left the club after 9 seasons. The Argentine was omitted from the squad for the second half of the campaign due to injury.
* Unless you were one of the handful of listeners that tuned in for the Hanoi Football Show Podcast where one of the presenters suggested they would have a strong season (if you haven’t guessed, that was me!)