HÀ NỘI — The enforced rest due to the COVID-19 pandemic may have been a boon for the country's two best-supported teams Hà Nội FC and Hoàng Anh Gia Lai ahead of the mid-March restart.
Hà Nội are rooted to the bottom of the table with two losses in two matches, a shock for the five-time champions.
“We did not have a good start with two defeats. We will have to prepare carefully for every coming match and play well because of the tough format of the tournament,” said coach Chu Đình Nghiêm.
“Our target is the top six first, then we could vie for the title in the second period,” he said.
After the Tết (Lunar New Year) holiday, Nghiêm and his players all tested negative for the coronavirus and returned to training.
They have also welcomed the return of key defenders Trần Đình Trọng and Đỗ Duy Mạnh after recovery from injuries.
“They both can follow the teams’ training plan. It is a good sign for all of us,” Nghiêm told reporters.
He also said that midfielder Moses Oloya who could not play in the previous matches due to a leg injury will be back in action.
Speaking with media, star midfielder Nguyễn Quang Hải is excited to play again soon.
“I really hope the pandemic is controlled well for the return of competitions. My club is struggling and under heavy pressure (after losses). We will have to overcome challenges to find ourselves,” he said.
“No one is happy with a loss of course, but we can learn about ourselves from it. We will stand up from where we collapsed and fight back strongly. Nothing could force us to give up our initial target of winning the V.League 1 title and it would be more wonderful if we could conquer the AFC Cup too,” he added.
Hà Nội, which recently extended defender Trần Văn Kiên's contract to 2023, are now seeking opponents for friendly matches in the coming days.
They will visit Hải Phòng FC at Lạch Tray Stadium on March 13 when the league restarts.
Time for deep understanding
Thai coach Kiatisuk Senamuang of Hoàng Anh Gia Lai believes he understands his players better thanks to the extra preparation time the COVID-19 pause gave them.
“The postponement came reluctantly but personally I think it is good for teams with more time for preparing. I am closer with the players when spending more time with them in both training and daily activities,” he said.
He said the first two rounds of fixtures were like a pre-V.League 1 tournament for teams to test their line-ups, personnel and tactics.
“My players are happy to play again in the next few weeks and grab the best results. We want to take the championship trophy,” said the Thai football legend.
After two matches, Senamuang experienced one win and one loss which put his team in ninth position.
Hoàng Anh Gia Lai will host Topenland Bình Định on home turf on March 14 and Senamuang hopes to have the stands packed with fans.
In that match, the hosts will face their former striker Rimario Gordon, who failed to score a single goal in 10 matches for HAGL in the 2018 season but netted a solid goal return for Thanh Hóa and Hà Nội before signing a contract with Bình Định this year.
Gordon has scored one goal in two matches this season and is keen to punish his former team.
Speaking about his team's preparation, Bình Định coach Nguyễn Đức Thắng said: “Following the new schedule, teams must play in tougher time table (three matches in 10 days). It requires strong physique from players, then teams in general and Bình Định, in particular, must have their own plan to make sure players’ best conditions and avoid injuries."
Hoàng Anh Gia Lai will play a friendly match with V.League 2 side People’s Police while Bình Định will play V.League 2 Khánh Hòa in Nha Trang before their match in the Central Highlands' Pleiku City.
Other matches will be between SHB Đà Nẵng and Hồng Lĩnh Hà Tĩnh on March 13, Quảng Ninh and HCM City and Viettel and Becamex Bình Dương on March 14.
The league organisers, the Việt Nam Professional Football Joint Stock Company (VPF), has only rescheduled 10 rounds of fixtures for the first half of the league season.
The league will pause again in mid-April when players are summoned for the national teams and some clubs take part in continental competitions.
The season will resume in July and is expected to end in September.
The V.League 2 matches will begin on March 19 while the National Cup will start in April with the exact date being confirmed later.
Local authorities will decide if supporters are allowed to attend matches. — VNS