HCM CITY (VNS)— Xuan Thanh Sai Gon inflicted its first loss on Hoang Anh Gia Lai in six games with the Eximbank V-League 2013's 11th-round victory, which was much more convincing that the score board suggested.
Kizito Geogey scored the only goal of the match in the 55th minute in a one-side match that saw Xuan Thanh dominating possession and creating numerous chances.
Despite losing the match, Gia Lai maintained their second place while Xuan Thanh remained in the bottom half of the table.
Hoang Anh Gia Lai entered the match with the chance of replacing Song Lam Nghe An on top of the V-League table if they left Thong Nhat Stadium with at least one point.
However, despite fans' expectations of an exciting and intense match, Xuan Thanh is a tough nut to crack for any team, especially on their home soil.
Without main strikers Oseni Bolaji and Evaldo Goncaves up front, Gia Lai's scoring and attacking ability barely threatened the home team's defence.
The only time Gia Lai actually came close to scoring was when young striker Le Hoang Thien was released into the box to face goalkeeper Bui Tan Truong, but his shot was too weak to stop.
The rest of the first half looked like a practice for Xuan Thanh, who had their strongest lineup for the match and converted their possession into real goal-scoring opportunities. But brilliant Akpan helped Gia Lai leave the field at the interval without conceding any goals.
The situation was not better for Gia Lai in the second half, when Xuan Thanh completely controlled the match, forcing Gia Lai to retreat into defence and resort to counter-attacking.
Kizito Geofey finally broke the deadlock for Xuan Thanh on his second attempt after his first shot was kept out by Gia Lai's keeper Akpan, who made some brilliant saves in the first half.
Gia Lai intensified their attacks in the latter half of the second half, but these were in vain due to the absence of a top finisher, which meant the absence of speed and accuracy. Thien simply could not replace Oseni and Goncaves.
Tran Duc Duong, Thien and Doan Van Marcelo worked very hard and created some hope for Gia Lai's fans, but they failed to find an equaliser before the final whistle.
"Losing many players, especially in the upfront, forced our defenders to work harder and they made mistakes," said Gia Lai's South Korean coach Choi Kyum-hun.
Choi added that he was very pleased that Gia Lai was second on the table after the first half of the season and said the team had worked hard for this result.
In the other match yesterday, Thanh Hoa beat Binh Duong 4-3 at Go Dau Stadium to rise temporarily to fourth place on the table.
Ha Noi T&T will be likely to replace Hoang Anh Gia Lai in second place on the ranking table because their opponent today is struggling Dong Tam Long An.
In a later match, leaders Song Lam Nghe An will try to keep their top position even though they will be playing against defending champions SHB Da Nang.
The match was made more difficult for Nghe An when coach Le Huynh Duc and his team were knocked out of the Asian Football Confederation Cup, meaning they could channel all their resources into defending the title. — VNS