A brace from Amido Baldé and another strike from Vietnamese International Nguyễn Công Phượng were enough to secure a historic win for City in their second AFC Cup Group F game, overcoming a spirited Hougang United of Singapore at the Jalam Besar Stadium.
With the Corona Virus still wreaking havoc around the globe and effecting people's lives, it was no wonder that City approached the AFC to postpone the game to a future date. However, the AFC were not open to such concerns and City travelled to the Singapore in reflective but determined mood. Health concerns also meant a reduction in the number of City supporters who might have travelled to the game. In the end, after taking health advise hcmcfc.net chose not to travel. Scott Sommerfield (another hard-core City fan and owner of facebook site Ho Chi Minh City FC however chose, at the last minute, to go and well done to him.
As reported previously, there is no place in the City squad for striker Matias who remained in HCMC. Injuries to Trần Thanh Bình, Đỗ Văn Thuận and Viktor Prodell meant that the trio also remained in HCMC to work on their recovery. Whilst midfielder Vũ Quang Nam continued on his road to recovery at PVF Acadamy.
City made five changes from the starting XI who faced Yangon United earlier in the month. Their were debuts for Keeper Bùi Tiến Dũng (35) who replaced Nguyễn Thanh Thắng (1) and and Right Back Lê Văn Sơn (19) who was one of three changes in City's defensive line up. Coming into the starting XI from the bench to join Văn Sơn at the back were Sầm Ngọc Đức (7) and Nguyễn Hữu Tuấn (15). The trio to miss out were Ngô Tùng Quốc (2) who dropped to the bench with Lê Đức Lương (12) and Vũ Ngọc Thịnh (20) missing out all together. In midfield, Nguyễn Công Thành (71) replaced Vũ Anh Tuấn (81) who dropped to the substitute bench.
Both Teams Announce Their Starting XI
Both teams went into the game on the back of impressive opening day results. City after gaining a creditable 2-2 draw away to Yangon United of Myanmar and Hougang United on the back of an impressive 3-1 away victory in Vientiane over Laos Toyota. However, the hosts had at the weekend been defeated 0-3 by Tampines Rovers in the 2020 Singapore Community Shield at this very stadium. City having not played since the beginning of February were at a disadvantage match fitness wise.
It was also Hougang United’s first ever home game at the Continental level, and they were looking to get the party started early. However, it was the visitors who should really have had the game's first opportunity. A cross into the host's area on four minutes found Công Phượng (21) who was crudely pushed to the ground with the referee barely yards away in a perfect position. Two minutes later and the hosts thought that they were in when Shawal Anuar’s run breached the new look City back four, only for a brilliant recovery from Nguyễn Công Thành (71) to keep the Singaporean international from getting a shot away.
In a frantic opening spell, City were to fashion a great opening of their own. Receiving a pass from stand in Captain Phi Sơn (10), the returning Vietnamese international Công Phượng was able to get away a right footed strike. Khalid (18) in the Hougang goal equal to the task.
City were starting to get a foothold in the game and beginning to enjoy ball possession, stretching both the host's central and defensive areas.
It was therefore no surprise when City took the lead on 15 minutes whith star arrival Công Phượng emphatically side-footing home the opener on the volley, capitalising on an opportunity created by Phi Sơn's dribble and cross. The two players already showing signs of a partnership which bodes well for Ho Chi Minh City. It was also the strikers second goal in the AFC Cup and his second in three starts for City. Hougang United 0-1 HCMC FC
15 minutes and striker Công Phượng scores the opener
Four minutes later and it was the Captain's turn to strike on goal. This time Phi Sơn was the recipient of a pass from Công Phượng who was beginning to show signs of enjoying life on a football pitch again. Unfortunately, Phi Sơn's effort failed to trouble the score board.
Despite City's dominance with the ball. The re-modelled back four were showing signs of a lack of game time together. Having said that, apart from Plazibat, no other Hougang player looked like taking advantage with Diakité (44) having another mamouth game at the centre aided and abetted by the returning Hữu Tuấn (15) who continues to resemble the shop keeper in the 1970's English children's programme Mr Benn. Magically appearing when you need him the most.
With just over a quarter of the game completed, City's new keeper Tiến Dũng was finally called upon, fisting away a dangerous cross after a period of Hougang possession.
Công Phượng was becoming a menice to the host's defence and on the stroke of half time almost turned provider when he received possession just outside the box and threaded a pass through to Baldé (99), but Hougang right-back Nazrul Nazari (11) was alert to the danger and weighed in with a crucial block just as the 28 year old Guinea-Bissau international fired away a shot from close range. Nonetheless, City duly doubled their lead seconds later to take a 2-0 lead into halftime as Phi Sơn hung up a looping cross in the area that paved the way for Baldé to tower over his opponent and deftly head past a stranded Khairulhin in the United goal. Hougang United 0-2 City
Baldé Celebrates Scoring City's Second of the night on the stroke of half time.
There was barely time for the hosts to restart and what could have been a tricky first 45 minutes had in fact turned into a passing exhibition by a confident City side looking to create history.
Half Time : Hougang United FC 0-2 Ho Chi Minh City FC
City started the second period as they had ended the first, on top and continued to threaten the defensive resolve of the hosts Hougang United. 53 minutes in and it really should have been 3-0 City as Công Phượng, who was delighting the watching Vietnamese with his work rate and skill, waltzed his way through the Hougang defence creating panic. Thrice, the Vietnamese side fired away efforts from point-blank range via the boots of Phi Sơn, Baldé and Công Phượng that seemed destined to find the net, only to be denied by some desperate blocking by Nazrul and Anders Aplin.
The hosts also had Khairulhin to thank for keeping them in the contest and he made another decent stop two minutes later, diving at full stretch to push wide a speculative 20-yard effort from Hoàng Thịnh (9) who must rate as one of City's most under-rated players.
But City were not to be denied their deserved third and it duly can a minute before the hour mark. No surprising that both Công Phượng and Phi Sơn where involved. Công Phượng again left the opponents’ defence in his wake and although his deflected shot came back off the post, Phi Sơn kept the attack alive and send in a delightful cross to the back post where Baldé was on hand to squeeze a header past a sea of players on the goal-line to grab his second and City's third of the night. Hougang United 0-3 HCMC FC
Baldé raises to head home City's third
City were in cruise control with the hosts seemingly devoid of ideas. City's passing had caused the hosts problems all night and there appeared to be no way back into the contest for Hougang United. Indeed, the only question was how many more could City score. However, after failing to award a blatant penalty to City in the 4th minute, referee Dae-yong Kim decided to award the hosts a lifeline by pointing to the spot in the 75th minutes after Hougang striker Shawal Anuar ran into a stationary Tiến Dũng on the edge of the box. Dispite player protests, the referee who had shown a tendency to err towards the bizarre, stood by his decision and Plazibat (9) duly stepped up to convert. Hougang United 1-3 HCMC FC
City's Tiến Dũng is sent the wrong way from Plazibat's penalty
City appeared to be unsettled by the decision and what had appeared a dead contest only moments earlier was very much alive when the City defense switched off to allow Plazibat a second goal merely 3 minutes after conceding the first. Anuar once again the architect, his cross into the area really should have been dealt with but Tiến Dũng, probably still reflecting on the strange penalty decision neither came for the ball nor stayed on his line allowing Plazibat to slot home. Hougang United 2-3 HCMC FC
Despite the frantic finale involving several comical moments of Hougang players falling over themselves in an attempt to gain a second ridiculous penalty, City held on for a valuable and historic away win.
Full Time : Hougang United 2-3 Ho Chi Minh City FC