Khanh Hoa 0-0 Ha Noi 19/8 Stadium: 11,000
It’s been a long time since my last blog entry. Not that I’ve not been going on away days with Ha Noi FC; I’ve had a few cracking days in Malaysia & Singapore recently taking in the AFC Cup tie against Tampines, which was preceded by the Champions League qualification win against Bangkok Utd. I really should have written about both of those trips. Certainly two recent highlights on the road. However I may have underestimated how much time a new business and child take up!
So it’s now, flying back from Nha Trang that I’ve decided to write again. Nha Trang is not my favourite place in Vietnam but with Hanoi being ridiculously humid (and polluted) recently it was time for some fresh air, the ocean, a spot of cycling and V.League action.
After 3 days of working on my lobster tan, match day had arrived. Prior to the game I stumbled across a local German brewery and figured one won’t hurt. The set up included a 12ft Christmas Tree, Russia WC mascots and a Happy New Year banner. It’s April. Typical scenes in Vietnam where Christmas songs are played year round in some supermarkets. If you’re familiar with Nha Trang you’ll know it’s basically a tourist town for thousands of Russian and Chinese holidaymakers. This particular brewery is owned by Igor. Igor hails from Vladivostok and is a fantastic host. Communicating through a mix of broken English and Google translate I was soon on my 2nd litre of beer and being taken on a tour of the storage room and then the brew room itself. I was the only one in the bar.
One turned in to a few. I had to get out. Igor offered to drive me to the stadium. He’d had at least 5 beers in the time I was there. I declined. “you’re right, I shouldn’t drive”, was his response, followed by “you can take my bike, no problem”. I burst in to semi-drunk laughter raising my litre class to his. “I’ll take a taxi, thanks!”
Half cut, I hopped off the back of the motorbike taxi, stumbled off and swapped my media pass for a bib. I was pitch side. I didn’t expect any Hanoi fans so figured I take some match photos. Turns out quite a few made the journey and even some from the southern fan club, who took an overnight bus up from HCMC. Unlike some stadiums there’s no way of climbing in to the stands once your pitch side. I was stuck, too many beers in and taking blurry photos.
The first half was predictable scrappy, on one of the worst pitches in the V.League. Giant French centre half Chaher Zarour was typically dominant in the air while Hanoi’s Quang Hai showed glimpses of magic, with one stand out weaving run, but his effort deflecting wide. Goalless at half time and after a trip to some of the grimmest toilets in the league and we were back underway.
Khanh Hoa were beginning to look the more likely to break the deadlock with Toure having plenty of joy down the right hand side. A breakaway effort was well saved by Van Cuong, as the large crowd began to roar on their side.
Samson replaced Thanh Luong on the left and the change brought some space in the final third with Zarour starting to be split between Samson and Oseni. Gaps were appearing. With just ten minutes remaining Samson saw an effort deflect wide, while Oseni’s effort flew wide as keeper Tuấn Mạnh rushed out.
Needing the win to remain top, and in the ascendancy, Hanoi bizarrely brought on Dinh Thanh Trong for Van Dung. A centre back replacing a centre back with minutes to go. The home fans were delighted to see national team favorite Trong enter the field, but unless there was an injury (which it didn’t seem like) it was a strange change. I sometimes wonder how much pressure coach Chu Đình Nghiêm in under to give the U23/national team stars game time to please the large crowds.
Two minutes later Quang Hai brilliantly played through Samson, but Tuấn Mạnh denied the striker from 8 yards. It ended goalless. Quảng Hai was named man of the match but for me Zarour was again the difference between the two sides, with Hanoi still searching for their first ever win in Nha Trang.
Loitering outside, watching the huge numbers of fans wanting to get a glimpse of the Hanoi stars before they head off on the bus an older man approached me. “Do you speak English?” “Yes, I am from England”. “Oh that’s great, the home of football. I am the grandfather of two Khanh Hoa players.” “well today you must be happy, the team played well today” I said, “Of course, Hanoi have many National team players, today was a great game!’.
I popped back to the brewery and was welcomed like an old friend by Igor. A few more beers led to Google voice recognition beginning to fail in translating a slurry Russian and I had started to speak broken English with a Russian twang. Igor managed a “I am kind because I am Russian” as he ordered one of his three wives to cook me up some snacks and then wondered “I don’t know why people say Russians are not friendly, we are such nice people”. He was genuinely perplexed.
Let’s go play pool!” Igor enthusiastically suggested. “No more drinking Igor, I’m going home!”
No goals, dropped points but a fantastic evening.