Vietnam’s top-flight football league, the V-League 1, has finally grabbed international headlines, but not in the way fans would expect, after a bizarre game in Ho Chi Minh City on Sunday.
The Round 6 clash between Ho Chi Minh City and Long An was covered not only by local but international media, after visiting side Long An refused to play in the wake of the referee awarding an 81st minute penalty to the home side.
With the scores locked at 2-2, Ho Chi Minh City’s Rod Dyachenko went down inside the box, after apparently being pushed by Long An defender Pham Hoang Lam.
Referee Nguyen Trong Thu saw the incident and did not hesitate to award a penalty to the hosts.
The Long An players protested vehemently, with several walking off the pitch and interrupting the game for nearly ten minutes.
With the referee insisting that the penalty kick be taken, Long An goalkeeper Nguyen Minh Nhut decided to turn his back to the penalty taker, Victor Ormazabal, who had no difficulty converting and taking the home side to a 3-2 lead.
After the penalty kick, only a few Long An players returned to the pitch, though none of them continued to play, merely standing where they were and allowing Ho Chi Minh City to score two more goals.
Though ten minutes of injury time were added to allow for the walk-off, referee Thu eventually blew the final whistle as Long An continued to refuse to compete.
The unusual game has made national headlines, with Long An criticized for their lack of sportsmanship and refusal to uphold the spirit of the game.
International news sites have reported on the V-League 1 game and described Long An’s protest as bizarre, insane and remarkable.
ESPN covered the game under the headline “Long An stage bizarre protest after soft penalty in V.League 1,” while 101GreatGoals.com said “Insanity in Vietnam as team stops playing to protest late penalty, concede twice.”
Players to be penalized
Speaking to reporters after the forgettable game, Long An chairman Vo Thanh Nhiem said the club had not asked its players to stop playing.
“I was watching the game from the stands and was shocked to see the penalty awarded,” Nhiem said.
“Shortly after the players began leaving the pitch, I rushed down from the stadium asking them not to be so unprofessional and urged them to return to the game, rather than continue their protest.”
Nhiem added that goalkeeper Minh Nhut’s act of standing with his back turned to the penalty-taker was “unacceptable and disrespectful to the audience.”
“The club leaders will have a meeting with the team and those who have displayed poor spirit will be strictly sanctioned,” the chairman said.
“Those players will either have their salary and bonus cut or be suspended from playing, or even have their contracts terminated early.”
Nguyen Minh Ngoc, head of the V-League 1 board, has condemned the behavior of the Long An players.
“We have asked the match referees to write a report and any individual found to be in violation of the rules will be penalized,” he said.
Vo Quoc Thang, chairman of the VPF, the league’s operator, said the Long An players should have continued to play even if they disagreed with the referee’s decision.
“Whether the referee’s decision was right or wrong will be reviewed, but the players should not have protested in this way,” he said.
Thang said the latest incident would only drive more fans away from Vietnam’s top-flight league, after a series of scandals year after year.