V-League enters final stretch
by Tien Thanh
HCM CITY — There is much more than a V-League title, trophy and prize of US$150,000 at stake when the three-horse title race of the Eximbank V-League 2012 will come to an end tomorrow.
The race between Ha Noi T&T, Sai Gon Xuan Thanh and SHB Da Nang will end in one of the most engrossing finales of the V-League in its professional 11-year history, with all three teams and their coaches on the verge of making history.
Sai Gon Xuan Thanh, a HCM City-based football club, which is in second place, holds some advantage when they battle on their home turf of Thong Nhat Stadium the leaders Ha Noi T&T, which have only one point more than Sai Gon Xuan Thanh.
A draw is enough for 2010 champions Ha Noi T&T to cement its high-profile status as two-time V-League champion. They finished runner-up after drawing Song Lam Nghe An at Vinh Stadium in the last match of the season.
Phan Thanh Hung will become the third coach to win two V-League titles since the football completion went professional in 2001 after Portuguese Henrique Calisto and Vietnamese Le Thuy Hai.
Sai Gon Xuan Thanh must defeat Ha Noi T&T to earn a place in the pantheon of the V-League and become the second team to win a V-League title in its first season after Hoang Anh Gia Lai, who did in the 2003 season.
Managing director-cum-coach Tran Tien Dai will be the first managing director to steer a team to a V-League crown as a coach without a professional coaching certificate.
Meanwhile, third-ranked team SHB Da Nang, which also have 45 points but an inferior head-to-head record, are in the most disadvantageous position in the title race as they have to visit touch opponent Ninh Binh.
Even if Da Nang beat Ninh Binh, Da Nang would only be champions and Le Huynh Duc would become the youngest coach to win two V-League titles if the match between Sai Gon Xuan Thanh and T&T ends in a tie.
Da Nang also would become the third team in history to win the country's top-flight football championships more than two times, after The Cong (five titles) and Cang Sai Gon (four titles).
In the battle to avoid relegation, the first ticket has been given to bottom-placed team Hai Phong; the second team demoted to the First Division will be determined tomorrow.
The fate of four teams – Ha Noi FC, Khanh Hoa, Kien Giang and Dong Thap – is hanging in the balance.
Ha Noi FC, Khanh Hoa and Kien Giang, who have the same 29 points and two points ahead Dong Thap, will be certain to keep a place in the V-League next season if they get three points.
Ha Noi visit already-demoted Hai Phong. Khanh Hoa host Song Lam Nghe An and Kien Giang take on Navibank Sai Gon at home.
Meanwhile, Dong Thap cannot decide their own fate even if they beat Thanh Hoa at home.
However, it is also possible that the second team relegated will be decided based on the head-to-head record or goal difference. — VNS