Washington Brandao’s first-half strike earned Hoang Anh Gia Lai a 1-0 win over Sydney FC in Group H in Ho Chi Minh City on Sunday as the Vietnamese side closed out the 2022 AFC Champions League (ACL) with five points.
This was Hoang Anh Gia Lai’s first and only victory at the campaign as they recorded two draws and three defeats in the five previous group games.
The Vietnamese team, backed by the majority of the fans at Thong Nhat Stadium, made a bright start in the rainy weather, with Vu Van Thanh hitting the side-netting and Brandao forcing Australian goalkeeper Tom Heward-Belle into action after powering through the puddles.
Moments later, Nguyen Van Toan curled his effort wide of Heward-Belle’s left post.
With six minutes to play until the interval, Hoang Anh Gia Lai took the lead after Van Toan and Tran Minh Vuong coordinated quickly in the midfield, opening a space for Brandao to rush in and shoot home from near the spot.
Sydney threatened after the restart, but their attacks and finishing continued to disappoint.
On the other end, it was Heward-Belle who was called into action by Nguyen Cong Phuong and Nguyen Tuan Anh again.
There was little the goalkeeper could do when substitute Jefferson Baiano bent his right-foot shot around him in the first minute of injury time, but Sydney were relieved to see the ball come back off the base of the post.
The reprieve mattered little, however, as Hoang Anh Gia Lai held on to defend their one-goal lead and take victory in their final foray into this year’s competition.
The triumph secured a third-place finish for Hoang Anh Gia Lai and left the Australians bottom of the standings with only two points at the end of a demanding 16 days in Ho Chi Minh City.
It was also the Vietnamese team’s maiden ACL win since their appearance in 2004, according to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).
Japan’s Yokohama F Marinos confirmed themselves as winners of Group H following a 1-1 draw with South Korea's Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors later on the same day, which meant both teams advanced to the Round of 16.
Introduced in 1967, the AFC Champions League is an annual continental club football competition organized by the AFC, and contested by Asia’s top-division football clubs.