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Defending champions Viettel stumble in V.League 1 opener

Viettel’s new slogan ‘Your Way’ might be a good fit for a telecommunications company, but having the words plastered around Hang Day Stadium’s advertising hoardings did the football club no favours on Saturday.

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Nguyen Phu Nguyen celebrates his goal, which turned out to be the winner. Photo thethaovanhoa.vn

That’s because Hai Phong really had ‘their way’ with Viettel’s football side for much of the defending V.League 1 champion's opening fixture of the 2021 season.

While the visitors only came away with a slender 1-0 victory, the manner of the defeat will be concerning for Viettel coach Truong Viet Hoang, who watched his normally watertight defence look decidedly shaky against a Hai Phong side so unfancied they didn’t even have a player featured in the league’s swishy season-opening promo video.

It took just two minutes for Hai Phong to expose that frail defence, bereft of captain Bui Tien Dung and Que Ngoc Hai, as good linkup play between forwards Andre Fagan and Jermie Lynch and a poor challenge from Viettel defender Walter Luiz gave Lynch a sight at goal, but keeper Tran Nguyen Manh was able to beat the shot away.

Luiz was at fault for the goal 13 minutes later when the Brazilian failed to deal with a high ball and Fagan outpaced him to race through on goal. The Jamaican’s shot was saved by Manh, but Nguyen Phu Nguyen was on hand to net the rebound and send the loud visiting support into raptures.

The away side should have doubled their lead on 29 minutes after a quick counterattack ended with Lynch taking a shot from just inside the box, but his effort struck the inside of the post and bounced agonisingly across the face of goal and out for a goal-kick.

Viettel’s best chance of the first half came in the 37th minute when Venâncio Caíque laid the ball off to Bui Duy Thuong after a nice move, but his powerful volley was comfortably saved by Nguyen Van Toan.

Hai Phong had yet another chance to make it two late in the first half after Lynch outpaced Silva and squared to Fagan, but Manh was equal to his effort, as well as the rebound from Nguyen Huu Khoi.

Coach Hoang rang the changes at half-time, taking off the struggling Luiz and changing Viettel’s shape, which put them in the ascendancy and changed the complexion of the match, and one briefly felt Hai Phong might be made to pay for their wastefulness in front of goal.

Their best chance to equalise came in the 61st minute when the silky Nguyen Hoang Duc somehow squeezed between two Hai Phong players and found Pedro Paulo on the edge of the six-yard box, but the Brazilian couldn’t control the ball and Van Toan smothered the ball and the golden opportunity.

While Viettel dominated possession for the rest of the match, Paulo’s miss was as close as they came to snatching a point, kicking their league title defence off to an inauspicious start. 

Hanoi stunned

Elsewhere in the opening weekend of fixtures, Nam Dinh shocked Hanoi FC 3-0 on Friday night at Thien Truong Stadium.

The visitors are among the favourites for the title this season, but two goals from Gramoz Kurtaj and one from Rodrigo Dias left them reeling. Hanoi coach Chu Dinh Nghiem lamented the poor state of the pitch after the match, but that alone doesn’t explain such a stunning reversal.

In Saturday’s other matches, Song Lam Nghe An and newcomers Binh Dinh drew 1-1, while Becamex Binh Duong defeated Thanh Hoa 1-0.  VNS

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