|BRAND-ED STRIKE: Washington Brandao's powerful flick was all HAGL needed to shock Sydney FC. — Photo HAGL Football Club|
HCM CITY — Hoàng Anh Gia Lai Football Club ended their AFC Champions League journey with a 1-0 win against Sydney FC, with Brazilian striker Washington Brandao scoring the only goal of the match.
This is the first win for a Vietnamese club in 18 years at Asia’s top club competition, and helped Việt Nam overtaking China in the AFC rankings.
After an underwhelming loss at the hands of Yokohama F. Marinos on Thursday, Coach Kiatisuk Senamuang switched to a 4-4-2 formation, benching Lương Xuân Trường and starting creative midfielder Nguyễn Tuấn Anh instead.
Already out of the competition, both teams went for all-out attack from the first minutes.
Many chances came for the home side in the form of corners, where Vũ Văn Thanh and Brandao posed a real danger at the waterlogged Thống Nhất Stadium.
Focusing on attack, HAGL almost conceded in the 25th minute when a counter attack from Sydney FC found an unmarked Adam Le Fondre. The former Reading striker, however, could not capitalise on the opportunity.
Le Fondre and his teammates would soon kick themselves for the missed opportunity, when fourteen minutes later, great play from HAGL led to a goal.
A long-range pass from Nguyễn Công Phượng found Trần Minh Vương, who made a great one-two play with Nguyễn Văn Toàn.
Vương's cross inside the box was blocked by a Sydney FC defender, but the rebound went to Brandao, whose flick went into the top corner.
Not wanting to place bottom of Group H, Sydney pressured HAGL in the opening minutes of the second half, with a shot from Anthony Caceres that went straight into the hands of keeper Huỳnh Tuấn Linh.
HAGL stayed strong and waited patiently for chances on the counter-attacks.
The men in white should have doubled the lead on in the 61st minute, when Công Phượng's solo run and shot from outside the box went straight at goalie Heward-Belle.
In the 74th minute, Sydney's 1.92 metre keeper again came to the rescue with an acrobatic save, after Tuấn Anh's left-footed rocket seemed destined for the top corner.
In the first minute of added time, Jefferson Baiano dribbled through the Sydney defence, but his shot unluckily hit the post. The 1-0 victory, however, was secure for Kiatisuk's men.
With this victory, HAGL finished Group H of the 2022 AFC Champions League in third place with five points (one win, two draws, three losses).
"The Mountain Team" lost to giants Jeonbuk and Yokohama FM, who both advanced to the second round.
"We are proud of our achievements here," said coach Kiatisuk.
"Many pundits said that it was a group of death and we would finish with zero points. We set out to prove them wrong and got what we wanted with five points to our name."
"It is sad to leave the AFC Champions League, since we don't know when we are going to have the chance to play a continental competition," said striker Văn Toàn. "My focus now is to improve HAGL's performance in the V-League."
HAGL, as with other V-League clubs, will go on a two-month hiatus, before top-flight Vietnamese football returns on July 2.
Sitting ninth place in the V-League with only three points, Văn Toàn and his teammates have a mountain to climb should they want to return to the AFC Champions League. — VNS