For all their exciting displays and history-making ways so far in AFC Cup 2019, Hanoi FC have left themselves with a mountain to climb when it mattered most.
As the first-ever ASEAN Zone representatives to reach the AFC Cup inter-zone final, Hanoi knew they needed a positive result against DPR Korea’s 4.25 SC last Wednesday – especially with a tricky trip to Pyongyang to come in the second leg.
While they carved out a plethora of chances at the Hang Day Stadium, the V.League 1 champions were plagued by profligacy and then let their opponents strike in 87th minute and salvage a 2-2 draw.
AFC Cup 2019: Hanoi FC 1-1 4.25 SC (Nguyen Van Quyet 21′)
What this now means for them is that – on Wednesday – they must at least net twice at the Kim Il-sung Stadium and not allow the opposition to score more than them.
Effectively, they have go for the win.
Against a side that have never lost at home in the AFC Cup, with a formidable record of nine wins and three draws.
Although Hanoi were the dominant team in the first leg, 4.25 showed enough to suggest they have plenty of firepower of their own.
Kim Yu-song, who scored that late equaliser with a powerful 30-yard drive, is one of the stars of North Korean football while, in Rim Chol-min, they have a powerfully-built focal point in attack – standing all of 1.88 metres – who is handful for any defender.
87′ WHAT A GOAL! 2-2 4.25 SC
— FOX Sports LIVE! (@FSAsiaLive) September 25, 2019
Then, there is also playmaker An Il-bom, not always a guaranteed starter for 4.25 anymore but capable of changing a game in a fleeting moment with his skill and vision.
Make no mistake about it – the odds are stacked in 4.25’s favour.
But, if anyone can head to Pyongyang and pull off a miracle, it is Hanoi.
Already in 2019, they have proven that they are capable of destroying opposition defence when in full flight, and also have the mental fortitude when faced with adversity.
After smashing in 23 goals in six group-stage matches, Chu Dinh Nghiem’s charges then did well with their first real test of the tournament in the ASEAN Zone semi-finals as they saw off Ceres-Negros, widely regarded as the region’s standout club over the past two years.
View this post on Instagram
Another tough test emerged in the form of Altyn Asyr in the inter-zone semis and a 3-2 first-leg win was far from ideal, having conceded two away goals ahead of a trip to Turkmenistan.
Unfazed, Hanoi headed northwest and duly recorded a 2-2 draw to get this far.
Strictly looking on the personnel on the field and discounting the obvious hurdles that will come with playing away in Pyongyang, Hanoi can beat 4.25.
In Nguyen Quang Hai, they boast one of Asia’s rising stars and he is capably supported by the likes of Nguyen Van Quyet, Moses Oloya, Nguyen Thanh Chung and Pape Omar Faye, who remains a threat even if he was the biggest culprit last week.
🎤 “We will have to overcome many difficulties in Pyongyang.”
🏆 The #AFCCup2019 Final is just one step away for Hanoi FC, but Do Duy Manh expects a tough battle in 🇰🇵
— AFC Cup (@AFCCup) September 27, 2019
Much has been made of Vietnam’s performances on the big stage in recent times – narrowly losing in extra-time in the last year’s AFC U-23 Championship, finishing fourth at Asian Games 2018 and reaching the quarter-finals of January’s AFC Asian Cup – and all involved them overcoming adversity and the odds to capture the imagination.
And Hanoi’s journey so far in AFC Cup 2019 has understandably drawn comparisons with the national team.
What better way then than to show the same resilience by getting the result they need in Pyongyang and carry on their history-making ways by reaching the final?
If anyone could do it, it is probably a Vietnamese team.