I might be down for a moment but I always come back!

‘That lads, that was fucking pathetic. You showed about as much desire as a dead koala, actually no, that’s being disrespectful to dead koalas. Sylla, you were fucking horrendous there, I’ve got a good mind to ship you off back to The Ivory Coast’ Kaloulou Sylla stood up but I cut him off before he could speak ‘Don’t, just don’t. 3 of their goals came from corners, and you were meant to be marking the big fella, you know the shit house that scored twice!’

Mo pulled up some sheets on the flip board and started to point at problem areas, as he’d called them

‘Mo put it away, the whole fucking side was a problem area today’ He was irritating me a bit really, during the game he was making all these notes on that fucking clipboard of his, then he was drawing things that look like my 2 year old niece had drawn instead of helping me turn that absolute shower of shite around as we got taught a lesson in how to play football.

We might as well call it a day lads. 5-1 against a team we’ve not beaten in 3 attempts now. Our chances of winning the cup had gently drifted across the pond in exactly the same way a bowling ball wouldn’t.

There is 1 tiny glimmer of hope however, and that is that we did equalise in this game which means we’ve got an away goal. The away goal rule got us to the final, but Dong Nai are too good, they’re too structured, they’ve got a 4 goal lead and we’ve got no hope.

I’ve got no ace up my sleeve, no wild card to spring on to Dong Nai, all I can do is tell the lads to go out there and try and at least keep it respectable. The only real change we can make is to switch the midfield around and play a more attacking 4-4-2.

Well actually, there is 1 subtle change we can make, Xuam Nam was pretty poor last time, well they all were, but he was error prone and didn’t help at all in the first leg, so he’s dropped and I give a first start to youngster Huu Son. He’s had a handful of appearances from the bench and scored some goals here and there, Xuam and Cheol may be my starters, but this cup final is all but over so putting the young lad in isn’t going to make things any worse.

Despite the problem we’re facing in this game, I love pressure. I thrive on it actually, can’t beat a bit of nerves mixed with anxiety mixed with the crushing realisation that you might not be good enough.

But as with the last 2 seasons here, for the most part we’ve set the pace in our games and really controlled them. In all fairness, we couldn’t have asked for a better 2 years. Promotion and a cup semi in our first year, and a top 4 finish and a cup final in the second year. But we’ve really let ourselves down with this first leg haven’t we.

Vietnam National Cup Final second leg

‘Just go out there and at least look like you give a fuck, they’re already on the beach sipping their…’ Mo interrupted my pre game team talk

‘Boss, they’re not on the beach, I have seen them warming up already’

‘Mo, please for the love of mankind learn when to speak and not interrupt, it was a figure of speech, I know they’re not on the fucking beach! Sit down and let me carry on’. I turned back toward the starting 11 ‘as I was saying, just go out there and try and put them under pressure. We’ve got nothing else to lose here, so go out there and show them that it was us that have more or less handed them this cup, not them earning it!’

As the team made their way to the pitch, I shook hands with the Dong Nai manager. He said something to me whilst grinning from ear to ear, he knows the tie is as good as over. I just hope we can do something to give the little a shit a scare, make he think he might actually lose it.

We started off as any team chasing the game should do, and that is on the front foot. I’m thinking to myself over and over that hopefully Dong Nai are going to be complacent, not wanting to put a tackle in and just see the game out, but lady luck wasn’t shining on us from the start.

11 minutes into the game, and Xuam Nam’s replacement Huu Son went to pressure the defence, and as he did he pulled up injured. Just over 10 minutes into the game and already we’ve had to make a change.

I called Xuam Nam over ‘Make me regret dropping you, show me why I should start you again next season. None of that piss poor showing from last time, make this opportunity count’ were my words as he waited on the touchline as Huu Son was stretchered off. Now was not the time to think about next season, but no matter the outcome of this game I’ll stick by Huu Son.

17th minute

My words must’ve been the kick in the ass our team needed. In the 17th minute Xuam Nam had got into the box and played the ball into mister reliable Chu Khanh Thanh, and he hit it with his laces and the ball thundered home to give us a 1 goal lead, which in turn was his first goal of the season. I’m not getting my hopes up just yet

Pressure?

Straight away from kick off we pressured them. A high press was talked about in training in the days leading up to the second leg and it was in full effect. They had to play it back to their keeper, and as they did Xuam Nam chased it all the way back, intercepted the ball and slid it under the keeper.

2-0, the fight back surely isn’t on is it?

Half time

We kept the pressure on all throughout the half, but nothing else came of it, and we ended the half at 2-0 to the good, 3-5 on aggregate.

‘We’ve done extremely well to get where we are. Do not let up, they’re there for the taking. Believe me, they’re crumbling and they damn well know it!’ I’m giving as much confidence as I can, but in my heart of hearts I know they’re going to come out in the second half swinging for the fences, we’ve just got to try and match them blow for blow. We might not win the war, but we’re damn well trying to win the battle!

We did as I wanted, and that was to come out all guns blazing. We’re the better team, and it’s showing. Dong Nai are very, what’s the word, lacsidasical in their approach to the second half. If they’re thinking they will just see this game out, they’re completely mistaken.

51st minute

From our right hand side the ball is swung in, not too high and not too low, just the right height for Xuam Nam to get a glancing header on it. The Dong Nai bench are up in arms, the players are raising hands and looking for an offside flag that never comes. It’s 3 nil to us.

We’re in dreamland. It’s the 51st minute, we’re 1 goal behind on aggregate. We’re going to do it, we’re going to fucking do it!

52nd - 79th minute

This is when the game turned slightly, and Dong Nai decided to show up. Right away from that third goal they were on us. It was like something flipped in them and they realised we might just win this game. Luckily for us, despite not having anything to do Van Hoang in our goal is alert enough to tip the ball out for a corner from one of their attacks. We’re still in with a shout of winning this.

The game was very open and very nervy from that third goal onwards. We seemed to start running out of steam, and Dong Nai could sense it too. They seemed to play the part of Rocky, take a beating and unleash on their opponents when fatigue set in. We’ve still got fight left in us yet.

With time winding down, we managed a foray into Dong Nai’s area that seemed a lifetime ago that we’d managed to do that.

As Cheol took a touch and held the ball up, at first glance it looked like he’d slipped but managed to keep hold of the ball, as he played it in field the ref blew his whistle. The linesman hadn’t raised his flag, players from both teams looked confused as did both benches, no one knew what was going on, that was until the ref pointed to the spot, penalty to us!

I can’t deny that I thought it was a soft penalty. The Dong Nai staff are going absolutely bananas at the fourth official. I’m at the end of the technical area speaking to Sylla and giving instructions ‘If it goes in, leave the ball in the net and get back, sit as deep as possible, no celebrating and do not let them come on to us. If not pounce on the ball, push on try and make something happen. If we’re to win this game then the away goal is what’s going to win it for us’

I’m nervous. The fans are nervous I’m sure. Mo and Steve in the dugout are nervous. But club captain and experienced player Minh Phuong is not. He puts the ball down, takes a couple of steps back and sets off toward the ball

Keeper guessed wrong, top left corner, 4-0, 5-5 on aggregate and an away goal to boot

The final 10 minutes

We survived the resulting pressure. We sat back and stayed in formation. All 11 players sat deep and we looked like a brick wall that was going absolutely nowhere.

The 2 minutes of added time flew by without incident. Dong Nai were deflated, beaten and embarrassed as they allowed a promoted side to overturn a 5-1 deficit to win the cup.

Carlsberg don’t do cup final second legs, but if they did, they’d be like this.


Previous chapter – Project survival

Episode 1 – This is not another European journeyman

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