The 2020 season of the V.League 1 produced a new champion as Viettel FC beat defending champions Hanoi FC by two points to win their first league crown in more than 20 years.
The season saw multiple disruptions from the coronavirus epidemic including a delayed start and suspensions in March and July. The league was split into two pools after the first half, with the top eight teams competing for the silverware and the bottom six fighting to avoid relegation.
Viettel amassed 41 points from 20 matches to finish two points above 2018 and 2019 champions Hanoi. Meanwhile, Quang Nam FC were relegated to V.League 2 after finishing with 18 points from as many matches.
Viettel upset odds to win first title since 1998
It was a three-way battle in Vietnam up until the penultimate round as Viettel and Hanoi were joined by Saigon FC, who had led the standings at the halfway point. A 4-2 loss to Hanoi on November 4 took them out of the running before the final set of fixtures.
Saigon still had a role to play in deciding where the title would end up as they faced Viettel on the final day. Bruno Cantanhede scored the only goal of the game to hand Viettel their first league crown of the 21st century.
Viettel bagged 19 of the 21 points available in the playoff stage to edge Hanoi who won six of the seven matches. While Viettel book a place in the group stages of the 2021 AFC Champions League as league winners, 2020 Vietnamese National Cup winners Hanoi and third-placed Saigon reserve their spots in the 2021 AFC Cup main draw.
Former champs Quang Nam drop down
While the Viettel camp celebrated victory, Quang Nam FC supporters were a subdued lot as they came to terms with relegation from V.League only three seasons after getting their hands on their first-ever league title in 2017.
Quang Nam were rock-bottom heading into the final round and needed a win by a four-goal margin against Hai Phong FC on October 31. Although they raced to a 3-0 lead early on, Nguyen Thanh Cong's side could only manage a 4-2 win and were ultimately condemned to the drop due to an inferior goal difference despite finishing with the same points as Nam Dinh FC.
Binh Dinh FC will replace them in 2021 after they managed to outscore Ba Ria Vung Tau FC by three points to secure promotion from V.League 2.
A season to forget for Hanoi FC
Hanoi, a squad that has represented Vietnamese football in recent years, had a 2020 that they wouldn't look back on fondly. Even before the season began, the Purple-Yellows were kicked out of 2020 AFC Cup for failing to meet AFC's club licensing criteria for continental competition.
It was runners-up Ho Chi Minh City FC and third-placed Than Quang Ninh FC who went to Asia instead. The setback would have hurt Hanoi badly especially as it came on the back of a historic season in which they were just one win away from the final of AFC Cup and became only the second side from Vietnam to progress that far after Becamex Binh Duong in 2009.
Their bad luck continued domestically as Chu Dinh Nghiem's side scored a league-best 37 goals and conceded just 16 during the season, but failed to secure what would have been a third league title in a row. The only silver lining of their season was the triumph in the Vietnamese Cup which guaranteed a return to the AFC Cup in 2021.
Can Viettel compete in Asia?
Viettel are the first team from Vietnam after Binh Duong in 2016 to reach the group stages of the Champions League. No team from the country has made it past the group stages of the competition and there have been only five wins recorded by Vietnamese sides from 62 games. Binh Duong finished bottom of a group which had Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, FC Tokyo and Jiangsu Suning in 2016, proving the uphill task Viettel have on their hands.
However, they could prove to be a tough nut to crack in the ACL as their solid backline has been the bedrock for their domestic success. In the seven matches in the second phase of the V.League, Viettel kept six clean sheets and only slipped in a single goal. Five of those wins were by a 1-0 margin as well.
Forming the backbone of their defence is Vietnam international duo Que Ngoc Hai and Bui Tien Dung while Nguyen Trong Hoang, now a veteran of four Vietnamese league wins, can be a nuisance along the right wing. Expect Truong Viet Hoang to bolster his squad even further with a few shrewd signings before dipping their toes into Asia.