By Hoài Nam, Peter Cowan, Hà Bé and Thanh Nga
The 2020 V.League 1 season is almost upon us and (coronavirus permitting) matches will kick off this coming week.
To mark the start of the season, Việt Nam News has put together a 14-team preview of each club and we’ve even had a look into our crystal balls to predict where each team will finish. Please note these predictions do not necessarily represent the view of any single writer but are a composite.
Hà Nội FC
Last season’s position: 1st
Việt Nam News writers’ predicted position: 1st
Key man: Nguyễn Văn Quyết, Vietnamese, forward
Last season’s defending league, National Cup and Super Cup champions may have a capital-sized target on their back, but it’s hard to see past coach Chu Đình Nghiêm’s men for the title.
With national team stars like Nguyễn Quang Hải and Đỗ Hùng Dũng, free-scoring Senegalese striker Pape Omar Faye and captain Nguyễn Văn Quyết (who has inexplicably been frozen out of the Việt Nam side), Hà Nội have the firepower to defend their title.
On top of that, the capital side can focus on domestic trophies as they failed to obtain a licence for continental competitions.
One roadblock could be complacency, with this season’s squad largely the same as last year’s, bar the addition of Jamaican striker Rimario Gordon from Thanh Hóa. Another concern would be losing some of that star power if the likes of Hải and Dũng follow Đoàn Văn Hậu out the door to move abroad.
HCM City FC
Last season’s position: 2nd
Việt Nam News writers’ predicted position: 2nd
Key man: Nguyễn Công Phượng, Vietnamese, forward
HCM City FC are all in. The southern side splashed out big time in the off-season and brought in a raft of big-name signings, both foreign and domestic, in an effort to go one better than last season and lift the V.League 1 trophy.
Alongside Sweden-capped forward Viktor Prodell and former Celtic FC striker Amido Balde, the southern side signed mistake-prone but promising goalkeeper Bùi Tiến Dũng from Hà Nội FC and ended Nguyễn Công Phượng’s nightmare loan spell in Europe to bring the local superstar home.
Signing hugely popular players like Dũng and Phượng shows City want to do more than win the league, they want to make a cultural, or perhaps commercial, impact in Việt Nam. Their chances for silverware and clout will greatly depend on Phượng finally living up to his promise, as with the league’s heavy northern tilt geographically, HCM City FC face a lot of long away trips and an uphill battle.
Than Quảng Ninh
Last season’s position: 3rd
Việt Nam News writers’ predicted position: 3rd
Key man: Mạc Hồng Quân, Vietnamese, forward
While Quảng Ninh may have finished third last season and qualified for continental football, this is one case where the league table may indeed be lying. The northern side finished 14 points behind champions Hà Nội, and 14 above relegated Sanna Khánh Hòa.
While they may not be ready to truly challenge for the title, Quảng Ninh will hope to kick on and solidify their spot towards the top end of the table, but some curious transfer dealings don’t fill one with confidence. Talismanic Russian forward Rod Dyachenko is gone (for now) and Jamaican forwards Andre Fagan and Jeremie Lynch have been signed from Hải Phòng on loan, despite not exactly pulling up trees with the port side.
Balancing the demands of AFC Cup fixtures with domestic engagements will be crucial, as will the form of creative forward Quân.
Bình Dương FC
Last season’s position: 4th
Việt Nam News writers’ predicted position: 4th
Key man: Nguyễn Tiến Linh, Vietnamese, forward
It has been four years since Bình Dương’s last championship and a fourth-place finish last season was a disappointment, leading to a raft of changes in search of returning to glory.
Long-time captain and national team hero Nguyễn Anh Đức’s contract wasn’t renewed, senior midfielder Lê Tấn Tài has moved to V.League 1 newcomers Hồng Lĩnh Hà Tĩnh, and former Viet Nam goalkeeper Bùi Tấn Trường has dropped down a division to join Đồng Tháp, among other personnel changes.
A lot is expected of young players like midfielders Tống Anh Tỷ, Thân Thắng Toàn and Trần Phi Hà, defender Trương Dũ Đạt, and forward Ngô Hồng Phước
The heaviest responsibility will be on rising national team star Nguyễn Tiến Linh, as he will be tasked with replacing Đức up front.
Bình Dương had a turbulent off-season in terms of their coaching staff, with Brazilian coach Carlos Oliveira brought in November only to leave two months later, reportedly due to a lack of the correct coaching certificates. Whatever the reason, Nguyễn Thanh Sơn is back in charge.
Last season’s position: 6th
Việt Nam News writers’ predicted position: 6th
Key man: Quế Ngọc Hải, Vietnamese, defender
Although it was their first year back in the top-flight last season, the former Military team finished a superb sixth. With a considerable investment in players, the target this year has to be to push on.
Midfielder Hồ Khắc Ngọc and goalie Trần Nguyên Mạnh were signed from Sông Lam Nghệ An and are expected to immediately strengthen the squad, while the Hà Nội-based side are yet another team with a trio of Brazilians to call upon, including impressive forward Bruno Cantanhede.
Viettel’s strength though is in their local players, including national team captain Quế Ngọc Hải, who is one of the best defenders in Southeast Asia. They can also call upon veteran midfielder Nguyễn Trọng Hoàng, young defender Nguyễn Đức Chiến and rising star playmaker Nguyễn Hoàng Đức.
Newly appointed coach Trương Việt Hoàng has a lot to work with, but the question is how far can he take this side.
Sông Lam Nghệ An
Last season’s position: 7th
Viet Nam News writers’ predicted position: 6th
Key man: Phan Văn Đức, Vietnamese, midfielder
Ngô Quang Trường replaced Nguyễn Văn Thắng as head coach after SLNA finished seventh last year, and he’ll be heavily reliant on a pair of young guns.
National U23 team players Phan Văn Đức and Hồ Tuấn Tài will be key to their hopes of a better 2020, and Tài will be expected to improve on his eight goals from last year.
The team have signed Gambia-capped Alagie Sosseh, Nigerian forward Peter Onyekachi and Brazilian striker Gustavo Santos Costa, but local players will take SLNA as far as they’ll go. The hopes of a top-three finish may be unrealistic looking at the squad.
Hoàng Anh Gia Lai
Last season’s position: 8th
Việt Nam News writers’ predicted position: 7th
Key man: Nguyễn Tuấn Anh, Vietnamese, midfielder
Perhaps the country’s best-supported side, HAGL had a tough 2019 and looked set for relegation at one point. Nevertheless, the club’s leadership kept their faith in South Korean coach Lee Tae-hoon, who has been allowed to strengthen the squad.
The team signed midfielders Damir Memovic from Serbia and Kelly Kester from Nigeria to help shore up at the back, a weakness last season.
Midfielder and captain Nguyễn Tuấn Anh has recovered from injury and is ready for the upcoming season, though his fellow national team star Lương Xuân Trường is out with a long-term injury, while Nguyễn Công Phượng is on loan at HCM City FC.
Jamaican forward Chevaughn Walsh returns after a decent 2019 to partner the fleet-footed Nguyễn Văn Tòan up front.
Last season’s position: 5th
Việt Nam News writers’ predicted position: 8th
Key man: Pedro Junior, Brazilian, forward
With former national team boss Hoàng Văn Phúc in charge, the long-term future looks bright for HCM City’s second team, especially with the recently signed co-operation deal with Tokyo FC.
The southern team have said goodbye to Brazilian midfielder Thiago Moura and naturalised player Đinh Hoàng Max who had a long trial period with the team but wasn’t signed.
Earlier, they welcomed multipurpose midfielders Huỳnh Tấn Tài of Long An and Nguyễn Minh Trung of HCM City as well as young goalie Dương Tùng Lâm from Hà Nội FC.
They also kept Brazilian striker Pedro Junior and Brazilian midfielder Geovane Magno, the former having performed outstandingly last year, notching 12 goals to help Sài Gòn FC reach fifth place.
Stability is considered the key for Sài Gòn this year.
Last season’s position: 12th
Việt Nam News writers’ predicted position: 9th
Key man: Diego Silva, Brazilian, forward
After finishing just four points out of the relegation zone last season, this year looks like it could feature more choppy waters for the northern port side.
Former technical director Ngô Quang Trường was named their new coach in November, but he swiftly upped sticks and returned to Sông Lam Nghệ An to coach further south. Phạm Anh Tuấn will start the season in the hot seat, but it’s fair to ask how long he’ll last.
Hải Phòng are also dealing with an ongoing legal issue and are appealing an order by FIFA to pay former player Errol Stevens VNĐ5 billion (US$200,000) after the club was ruled to have breached his contract.
The club have made some intriguing signings, including Brazilian striker Diego Silva and overseas Vietnamese pair Martin Lo and Michal Nguyen, but another season of tumult could be on the cards unless Silva can replicate his Thai League 3 form and fire Hải Phòng to safety.
SHB Đà Nẵng
Last season’s position: 10th
Việt Nam News writers’ predicted position: 10th
Key man: Hà Đức Chinh, Vietnamese, forward
Having won the V.League 1 three times in 1992, 2009, and 2012, as well as two national cups in 2009 and 2013, SHB Đà Nẵng have struggled in the last few years with a string of poor performances.
The central city team, under coach Lê Huỳnh Đức, have signed in two foreign strikers Frenchman Phillippe Nsiah and Nigerian Ismahil Akinade, alongside Serbian defender Igor Jelic, to strengthen their squad.
That squad already contained national U23 team members Hà Đức Chinh, Đỗ Thanh Thịnh and Bùi Tiến Dụng, and much will be expected of Chinh in particular after a stellar Southeast Asian Games campaign.
SHB Đà Nẵng also said farewell to talismanic striker Đỗ Merlo. The Vietnamese-Argentinean moved on to Nam Đinh after scoring more than 100 goals across two stints with the central side.
Last season’s position: 9th
Việt Nam News writers’ predicted position: 11th
Key man: Đinh Thanh Trung, Vietnamese, midfielder
The central province team had an amazing year in 2017 when they lifted the V.League trophy, but since then things have gone downhill, with two seasons flirting with relegation. Last year’s ninth-place finish led coach Hoàng Văn Phúc to resign.
New coach Vũ Hồng Việt, 41, is now in the hot seat and tasked with improving life at Tam Kỳ Stadium.
The team held on to their key players like playmaker Đinh Thanh Trung, forward Hà Minh Tuấn and goalkeeper Phạm Văn Cường, while adding Brazilian Jose Pinto to join his countrymen Rodrigo Dias and Lucas Rocha, giving the club what could be a solid core of foreign players.
Nam Định FC
Last season’s position: 11th
Việt Nam News writers’ predicted position: 12th
Key man: Đỗ Merlo, Vietnamese-Argentinean, forward
Last season was a success for Nam Định by staying in the V.League for the second year in a row, and in fact finishing two places higher than they did in 2018, outperforming a pair of more fancied and financially stronger teams in Hải Phòng FC and Thanh Hóa FC.
Though Nam Định lack talent and cash, they have turned Thiên Trường Stadium into a fortress thanks to their passionate fans, though some may say their passion runs too hot after an ugly flare incident away to Hà Nội last season.
Coach Nguyễn Văn Sỹ has been able to make some signings, with the legendary Đa Nẵng striker Đỗ Merlo in particular a coup. The naturalised Argentinean is joined by Brazilian forward Rafaelson Bezerra Fernandes and Nigerian defender Tony Agbaji, who are expected to be the core of the team.
Thanh Hóa FC
Last season’s position: 13th
Việt Nam News writers’ predicted position: 13th
Key man: Hoàng Vũ Samson, Nigerian-Vietnamese, forward
Thanh Hóa escaped from automatic relegation on the last day of the 2019 season and then scraped through a playoff against Phố Hiến to retain V.League 1 status, all after going through three head coaches.
This year, it’s safe to say club president Nguyễn Văn Đệ wants to turn things around.
The club have signed Cameroonian defender Epassi Ewonde, Croatian midfielder Josip Balic and Swedish striker Grace Tanda to strengthen all three levels of the team.
The biggest deal though may have been bringing in Nigerian-Vietnamese forward Hoàng Vũ Samson from Hà Nội. The all-time V.League 1 top-scorer will be out to prove the capital side made a mistake in letting him go.
Not content with strengthening the playing squad, Thanh Hóa also hired the first foreign head coach in their history. Italian Fabio Lopez joined the team in November after a long career coaching around the world.
Hồng Lĩnh Hà Tĩnh
Last season’s position: 1st in V.League 2
Việt Nam News writers’ predicted position: 14th
Key man: Phan Văn Đức, Vietnamese, midfielder
V.League 1 newcomers Hồng Lĩnh Hà Tĩnh could be in for a tough season, as many of the squad lack experience at this level.
One man who doesn’t lack experience is former Bình Dương midfielder Lê Tấn Tài. The 35-year-old signed for the rookies and was quickly installed as captain. If he can pass on his wealth of experience, Hà Tĩnh stand a chance of staying up.
The club may not have a huge budget, but coach Phạm Minh Đức has been able to recruit a Brazilian trio. Defender Janclesio Almeida and forwards Antonio Pina Pereira and Bruno Henrique will have to prove their worth for the club.
Hà Tĩnh have also brought in some V.League 1 experience in the form of Nguyễn Hoài Anh from Quảng Ninh, Phạm Hoàng Lâm from Hoàng Anh Gia Lai, and Lê Mạnh Dũng from SLNA. VNS
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