Viet Nam star Nguyen Cong Phuong failed to inspire Hoang Anh Gia Lai in their 0-2 loss to Song Lam Nghe An yesterday at Vinh Stadium.
The key striker from the national U23 team was absent for most of the game against the team that rejected him as a seven-year-old boy nearly 13 years ago.
The match lured more than 10,000 fans and hundreds of reporters, all eager to see Phuong in action.
Hoang Anh Gia Lai, who have to six U23 members, were crushed just eight minutes into the game.
Midfielder Pham Manh Hung volleyed from a corner to score the opener, leaving ‘keeper Nguyen Minh Nhut no chance.
The early goal pumped the hosts up, but strikers Ho Tuan Tai and Tran Phi Son were unable to convert their chances.
Phuong was alone during the first half and found it more difficult in the second half when he was marked by Que Manh Hai, captain of the U23 squad.
Keeper Nhut was the visitor’s hero in the second half, making save after save, but he was eventually beaten again in the 75th minute.
Son received the ball from the left-wing and shot from 20m to make it 2-0 for the former national champions.
Song Lam Nghe An showed their strength in both attack and defence, while neutralising Phuong and his teammates.
Hoang Anh Gia Lai had only one threatening chance from a free kick by Nguyen Hoang Thien which hit the right post.
Coach Guillaume Graechen said Song Lam showed that they were a strong team with great determination, with help from the home fans.
Graechen said Phuong was snuffed out by the defence.
He also said some of his players, including midfielder Nguyen Tuan Anh, were still recovering from injuries.
Coach Ngo Quang Truong praised Hoang Anh Gia Lai for their skilful techniques and use of their strengths.
It was Song Lam Nghe An’s fifth win, which pushed them to the fourth position in the tableranking with 17 points. Hoang Anh Gia Lai’s sixth loss has pushed them closer to the bottom of the table.
In other games, Ha Noi T&T had to settle for a 1-1 draw against Hai Phong, while defending champions Becamex Binh Duong maintained their lead after beating Dong Nai 2-1.
Thanh Hoa, under new coach Hoang Thanh Tung, beat Dong Thap 3-1.
Dong Tam Long An jumped to third position thanks to a 1-0 win over Can Tho yesterday.