No Friends on the Field

While the entire population is busy stacking up on toilet paper to fight against COVID-19, Planet Saigon stopped rotating for 80 minutes for the most anticipated match of the season. It was Saigon Raiders vs Saigon Vikings at the Thu Duc Sports University. Those two teams might be from the same club at their core, but today no friendship is allowed when the 32-panel ball is released on the turf and the kick-off whistle is blown. While Dixon’s team are still skyrocketing to the top of the table with 7 points over the runner-ups, The Wilding Boys are still in seek of their first three-point gain of the season. Stack your watermelon slices (only 7,000 VND/kg) thanks to the current embargo on exports to China, Week 10 at the SIFL will be no walk in the park with a hot and sweaty 2pm kickoff.

With three games on the schedule this week, the Vikings had to bring their A-Game to face last season’s title holders. The Vikings seem to have finally found their stride midway through the season. And it is showing today, as they successfully held the Raiders high and even knocked at the gate at a few occasions. This year, the Vikings surely deserve every bit of praise coming to them.

The Raiders attacked with more purpose and intent and held the midfield with more unity, determination and organisation. The two defeats this week left a deep wound in the Vikings physical condition, but the moral was still up. It was still nil-nil after 30 minutes. While the Raiders couldn’t have the best of the Vikings on 50/50 challenges – perhaps because of the familiarity the Vikings have on each opposing player – the Raiders finally found the back of the net with a perfect execution involving Levert on the top left corner of the pitch, bringing it back to Owen at the 18m line and squaring it perfectly for a header by Hogg. It’s now 1-0 only 3 minutes before half-time.

As time is running out, it is clear that the Vikings are getting more impatient with the ball. Desperate to bring the game to level, long balls are being played but still cannot concert. With 2 Raiders defenders teaming up on each of our strikers, neither Ricky or Ed managed to find sufficient space in the top tier. After 70 minutes, the thermometer shows 36 degree. It became evident that fitness will be the differentiating factor in the final stretch. While the Vikings kept getting closer to the equalizer, Hoggy – author of the only goal so far in the game – came in a brutal collision with the goalkeeper Arjen “Kramer” Ruggenberg. While it is still unclear on the replay if the collision was intentional from the British international, fans in the standings claim to have overheard the Dutch international menace the Raiders striker: “I’ll cashew later!”. Story to be continued…

Late in the game, on a failed attempt from the Vikings defense to clear the ball out, it was intercepted at the midline and back to Levert on the top left side of the pitch. Similar scenario than for the first goal. Only this time, Levert centers directly at the penalty spot for a perfect header by defender Olly Oi playing very high amidst the tight score. The risk was rewarded. It is now 2-0 with only 12 minutes to go. This is how the game will end. Despite the score, it was probably one of the best performances of the season for the Vikings, as they managed to find their rhythm and hold the Champions in line for the most part of the game.

It looks promising for the remainder of the season, as the Raiders are cruising down Title Lane, and the Vikings expansion team gains valuable experience in the SIFL. The future of the Club is bright. Today, even the most seasoned football analysts couldn’t have guessed that 20 points currently separate the two teams at either ends of the table. No real turkey was awarded for the game. Vikings Colombian international – #44 James Mengad – was voted turkey, despite a solid game on the right corridor, for kissing his girlfriend in public during the post-game beer at Pasteur Street Brewing Co. Haters gonna hate!

Special mention to Belgian international Quach Hung for his clean sheet on his final game on the left back with the Raiders. Now transferring back to his home country, the #2’s unshakable consistency with the Reds over the last 2 seasons will be greatly missed. Farewell, brother! Best wishes, and good luck with your new Club!

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