Nguyễn Phú Nguyên celebrates his goal, which turned out to be the winner. Photo thethaovanhoa.vn
HÀ NỘI — Viettel’s new slogan ‘Your Way’ might be a good fit for a telecommunications company, but having the words plastered around Hàng Đẫy Stadium’s advertising hoardings did the football club no favours on Saturday.
That’s because Hải Phòng 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 Trương Việt Hoàng, who watched his normally watertight defence look decidedly shaky against a Hải Phòng 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 Hải Phòng to expose that frail defence, bereft of captain Bùi Tiến Dũng and Quế Ngọc Hải, 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 Trần Nguyên Mạnh 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 Mạnh, but Nguyễn Phú Nguyên 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 Bùi Duy Thường after a nice move, but his powerful volley was comfortably saved by Nguyễn Văn Toản.
Hải Phòng had yet another chance to make it two late in the first half after Lynch outpaced Silva and squared to Fagan, but Mạnh was equal to his effort, as well as the rebound from Nguyễn Hữu Khôi.
Coach Hoàng 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 Hải Phòng 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 Nguyễn Hoàng Đức somehow squeezed between two Hải Phòng players and found Pedro Paulo on the edge of the six-yard box, but the Brazilian couldn’t control the ball and Văn Toản 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.
Hà Nội stunned
Elsewhere in the opening weekend of fixtures, Nam Định shocked Hà Nội FC 3-0 on Friday night at Thiên Trường 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. Hà Nội coach Chu Đình Nghiêm 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, Sông Lam Nghệ An and newcomers Bình Định drew 1-1, while Becamex Bình Dương defeated Thanh Hóa 1-0. — VNS