A friendly debacle could be on the cards

November 15, 2022 - 08:52
Three years between titles isn’t long for many clubs but when you have the pedigree that the likes of Hà Nội do, 2019 feels like a lifetime ago.
National team star Nguyễn Tiến Linh (left) will reportedly play a part in his club's friendly with a team from Japan. — Photo courtesy of laodong.vn

by Peter Cowan

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Hà Nội FC are once again champions of Việt Nam after a 2-0 win over Hồng Lĩnh Hà Tĩnh on Sunday brought the capital side to the 50-point mark.

Three years between titles isn’t long for many clubs but when you have the pedigree that the likes of Hà Nội do, 2019 feels like a lifetime ago.

Chun Jae-ho’s men were worthy of the title and while they did suffer the occasional slip-up in the last few weeks, it would be hard to argue there’s a side more deserving.

That the title race has been wrapped up with little to no controversy will be a relief for the Việt Nam Professional Football Joint Stock Company (VPF), but things aren’t quite the same at the other end of the table.

Hà Tĩnh and Sài Gòn FC go into the final weekend of fixtures as the only two teams that could face automatic relegation. Hà Tĩnh face Thanh Hóa at home while Sài Gòn host Bình Dương.

One might think they have a relatively equal chance of staying up, seeing as both their opponents are on 28 points and have little to play for in mid-table.

However, if I were a Hà Tĩnh fan I would be seething about a fixture Sài Gòn’s opponents have lined up.

The day after Bình Dương play Sài Gòn, they’re scheduled to host Japanese team Kawasaki Frontale in a friendly.

There’s been a fair amount of fanfare over the fixture, which is being held to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Việt Nam-Japan diplomatic relations, as Frontale are one of Japan’s top teams and have stars like Thai international Chanathip Songkrasin to call upon.

Various media reports and indeed the Viet Nam Football Federation’s own news post about the match have mentioned how Bình Dương will have a strong side out for the friendly despite it being the day after a competitive league fixture. Nguyễn Tiến Linh, the team’s top Vietnamese player, is reportedly set to play a role.

I can see why fans and players alike are excited to see a side of Frontale’s quality in Việt Nam, but how the powers that be allowed this match to be scheduled when it has been is beyond me.

If Bình Dương play a weakened team against Sài Gòn or if their players tone down their effort with the friendly in mind, the damage to the V.League 1’s integrity would be huge.

Imagine a scenario where Sài Gòn thump Bình Dương and Hà Tĩnh lose to Thanh Hóa, sending Hà Tĩnh down. They would be well within their rights to complain about this friendly and its impact on their relegation.

Perhaps those that allowed it to go ahead will get lucky and Hà Tĩnh and Sài Gòn secure the same result, but whatever happens, it’s more of the same when it comes to how league football is treated in Việt Nam. — VNS