Hoàng Anh Gia Lai midfielder Trần Minh Vương vies for the ball against Nam Định defender Nguyễn Hạ Long during last year's V.League 1 match. The two team will play in the National Cup on May 23 at Thiên Trường Stadium. Photo of VPF
HÀ NỘI — Việt Nam’s National Cup is not the first football tournament to be back in action after the easing of social distancing, but it will have the world’s attention as fans return after being shut out for the first time.
The first match and also the focus of the round is the meeting between hosts Nam Hà Nam Định and Hoàng Anh Gia Lai.
CNN and ESPN reporters have been seen at the venue which always attracts large crowds whenever these two sides face each other.
At their last match in 2019, 25,000 supporters turned out to watch the teams battle out a 2-2 draw.
Speaking at a press conference ahead of the match, Nam Định coach Nguyễn Văn Sỹ said he was confident his team would win.
“It is a knock-out game. We can’t predict exactly what will happen in a football match but we will do everything to win. We are confident of that,” said Sỹ, who will have his best players available for the game.
The early match of the National Cup will be open to supporters, but only about 10,000 tickets will be on sale, about 50 per cent of the stadium's capacity.
Organisers will check fans’ temperatures while face masks and hand sanitiser will be mandatory.
Sỹ said that having fans back in the stands would be great encouragement to his players, especially against Hoàng Anh Gia Lai's strong squad.
Nam Định also have a good record at home. Last year, they won eight and lost two at Thiên Trường Stadium, and they overcame strong opposition in Hải Phòng, Sông Lam Nghệ An and defending champions Hà Nội.
The former national team defender is also confident because Hoàng Anh Gia Lai may be without important players.
National team striker Nguyễn Văn Toàn has just recovered from a groin injury and is a doubt, while defender Damir Memovic has pulled a thigh muscle and will be out for two weeks.
“Hoàng Anh Gia Lai have technical players. This season they have improved and also recruited quality foreign players.
“Their absence will strongly affect Hoàng Anh Gia Lai. I think their substitutes may not fill the holes left by key players, especially Toàn,” Sỹ said.
Hoàng Anh Gia Lai are yet to make a statement about Toàn.
A team official said he may play but that decision would be made by the coaching board based on how the match was going.
The visiting side do have an advantage because the players have been training through social distancing to maintain their physique and technique.
Talented midfielder Nguyễn Tuấn Anh is also back to strengthen the centre of the park and link up with the front line. His comeback offers hope to coach Lee Tae-hoon’s target of taking three points from the game.
Hoàng Anh Gia Lai have pocketed four points after two matches and stand third in the V.League 1 table. Before travelling to Nam Định, they beat Đắk Lắk 2-0 in a training match.
Nam Định have three points with one win and one loss, and stand in 10th.
Sunday will see four games between An Giang and Long An, Huế and SHB Đà Nẵng, Sông Lam Nghệ An and Bình Định and Sà Rịa-Vũng Tàu and Sài Gòn.
The next five matches will be held on Monday.
All clashes will be aired live on VTV6 and other platforms including VPF’s official youtube channel and Next Sport Media’s facebook fanpage. VNS