V.League in preview: Title race heats up as second leg commences

Sunday, 2019-07-07 10:05:49
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HCM City players celebrate after scoring a goal against Viettel during their meeting in the last 16 of the 2019 Vietnamese National Cup. (Photo: VPF)
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NDO – The return leg of the 2019 V.League commences today (July 7), promising to see fierce, thrilling and exciting competition. After a three-week break, the teams have made necessary additions to their lineups, and are now ready to conquer the best results during the second phase of the title race.

The first-leg champions, Ho Chi Minh City, are expected to face a huge challenge while playing as the guests to newly promoted Viettel.

Under the management of Chung Hae-seong, HCM City produced a big surprise in the first leg, overcoming an array of strong opponents to claim top spot with 27 points after 13 matches, equal to the total points they reached during the whole of last season.

Despite their temporary reign, Chung’s troops still maintained regular training in preparation for the return phase. Furthermore, HCM City were very active during the mid-season transfer window. Right after bidding farewell to the top scorer of the first leg, Joel Vinicius, the club’s leadership board immediately recruited two foreign strikers, Ismahil Akinade (Nigeria) and Victor Mansaray (United States), to fill up the blank.

However, the trip to Hang Day Stadium later today will not be easy for the southern team. Over a week ago, HCM City encountered Viettel at Hang Day in the National Cup round of 16. Chung’s side had to count on a late goal by Huynh Kesley Alves to secure a 3-3 draw before beating the V.League newbies in the penalty shootout to seal a nail-biting triumph.

Viettel’s attacking power has improved a lot compared to the first-leg stage, with the service of midfielder Trong Hoang and foreign forward Bruno Cunha. Manager Nguyen Hai Bien’s players will surely head into the match with the great determination to avenge their recent loss to HCM City in the National Cup arena.

Fourth-placed Song Lam Nghe An rediscovered the joy of victory in the last round of the first leg by defeating Hoang Anh Gia Lai with three unanswered goals. The triumph was of great significance to Nguyen Duc Thang’s side as it put an end to their seven-game winless run. The home clash against eighth-placed SHB Da Nang this afternoon is considered a good chance for Song Lam Nghe An to bag the full three points to reduce gap with the title frontrunners.

Song Lam Nghe An (in yellow) beat SHB Da Nang 2-0 in the first leg of the 2019 V.League. (Photo: VPF)

Song Lam Nghe An have recently had their attacking power strengthened with the signing of in-form Brazilian forward Joel Vinicius from HCM City. Not to mention, they have never lost to SHB Da Nang, both at home or away, since the 2017 season, including their 2-0 away victory at Hoa Xuan Stadium in the first leg of the 2019 V.League. These statistics have poured tremendous pressure on Le Huynh Duc’s troops, who have shown shaky form in the past few V.League matches.

Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL) are looking towards grabbing the full three points as they host second-from-bottom Quang Nam FC at Pleiku Stadium. Republic of Korea manager Lee Tae-hoon had a fantastic start with the Gia Lai team, gaining seven points after their first three matches of the season. However, HAGL then failed to maintain their steadiness over recent times, as they only managed to get just two points in their last four V.League games. These poor results forced Lee’s side to fall to 11th position in the table. Therefore, a win over in-crisis Quang Nam will be like a must for HAGL if they wish to foster their title hopes this season.

Playing on home turf will be the only advantage which bottom-placed Sanna Khanh Hoa could count on to possibly create a stir against fifth-placed Thanh Hoa FC this afternoon. Khanh Hoa emerged as a powerful force in the 2018 V.League, but things have changed dramatically this season as they are now stuck at bottom with only nine points after 13 games. In order to escape relegation at the end of the season, Vo Dinh Tan’s side need to make good use of any opportunities they get, and the clash against “moderate opponents” Thanh Hoa FC will be a good chance for Khanh Hoa to secure some points.

Former champions Becamex Binh Duong will take on Nam Dinh FC at Go Dau Stadium on Monday, with their confidence strongly boosted after making it through to the AFC Cup ASEAN Zonal final (against Hanoi FC) and the 2019 Vietnamese National Cup semifinals. A draw can be seen as an optimistic result for the guests, but the hosts Binh Duong will have to clinch three points in order to satisfy their home fans.

Lach Tray Stadium will be one of the “hottest venues” of matchday 14 as hosts Hai Phong, currently ranked 12th in the standings, play reigning champions Hanoi FC. The sad memories of flares in the first-leg meeting between the two teams still remain clear, making the admirers of beauty in football feel frustrated. Therefore, the football itself has not attract as much attention as the issue of ensuring security and safety for the match. Hanoi FC continued to deliver brilliant form over recent times by booking their places in the AFC Cup ASEAN zonal final and the 2019 National Cup semifinals. Possessing the most destructive attacking lineup of the 2019 V.League, Chu Dinh Nghiem’s side are highly favoured to snatch all three points at Lach Tray Stadium to further consolidate second place in the title race.

VAN TOAN