Semi-final day! I may have slated this tournament a little bit at the beginning, however, I’ve sorted my face out and decided to get a big dose of cup fever. How this is going to work today is as follows: preview of the early game (FLC Thanh Hoa vs SLNA) and then one of the later game (Ha Noi vs Becamex Binh Duong). Let’s not beat around the George W Bush and get this show on the road.

This game is clearly the tighter of the two as it sees fourth play third. Song Lam Nghe An (SLNA) are the current holders of this competition and they’ll be doing all they can to win it once more. Before we take a look at the game itself, let’s have a mooch over their respective pathways to the final four.

Thanh Hoa’s Route

To be fair, there’s not a great deal to look at. Both sides had a bye in the first round which means they came in at the round of sixteen which is the last round that is played over one leg. If Thanh Hoa wanted an easy tie, they were in luck. Long An at home. I’ve documented Long An’s fall in parts and in short, they’re pony. What does that mean? No idea, it’s not a compliment, let’s just leave it at that. Routine 2-0 victory.

Once more, in the quarter-finals, Thanh Hoa were dealt an incredibly favourable hand. The lowest-ranked team left in the tournament, Binh Phuoc, were Thanh Hoa’s opponents over two legs. In the first-leg, Dinh Tung Hoang got Thanh Hoa off to the perfect start when he broke the deadlock after only nine minutes. It was time to get the abacuses out as I was expecting Thanh Hoa to run riot. Not quite. It was only 1-0 at the break. Tense. Tien Thanh Mai made the game safe five-minutes into the second half and that was that. No away goals conceded. A two-goal lead. Not a bad day at the office.

Thanh Hoa had to make the trip down south for the return leg. Despite Binh Phuoc being two goals down on aggregate, they’d be only too aware that if they got the first goal, it would set the cat amongst the pigeons. Unfortunately, Thanh Hoa took the lead in this game as well which put the game out of reach for Binh Phuoc. To their credit, they did manage to get a goal in the seventy-sixth minute, but away goals put to bed the chances of a late comeback. Thanh Hoa progress.

SLNA’s Route

SLNA’s task in the round of sixteen wasn’t as easy as Thanh Hoa’s, either way though, Ho Chi Minh City at home isn’t that tough. In a similar fashion to Thanh Hoa’s route to the quarter-finals, SLNA made light work of HCMC, as many teams have this season. 2-0.

SLNA’s quarter-final opponents were Da Nang. If my memory serves, I was expecting Da Nang to get some sort of result here as SLNA hadn’t really looked like they were up to much in the league and Da Nang were having somewhat of a purple patch. At least that’s how I remember it. Naturally, SLNA wiped the floor with them. Two goals in three minutes from Ho Tuan Tai after the break put SLNA in the driving seat. When Phan Van Duc made it three, it was all but sealed that SLNA were through to the last four bar something going catastrophically wrong. Merlo gave Da Nang a shred of hope when he made it 1-3 in the final ten minutes.

For whatever the reason, it only shows me the scorers for the first-leg so we’re working with nothing but timings for the second-leg. Such is the way of the world. Da Nang needed to score three to stand a chance of progressing. When SLNA took the lead in the thirteenth minute, Da Nang’s job hadn’t changed, they still need to score three. That didn’t happen. SLNA scored again in 2nd half stoppage time to give the scoreline a favourable look. And here we are today.

Previous Meetings

Thanh Hoa have won the last three encounters against SLNA, all without conceding. Saying that, SLNA are a different animal this time around and considering the astonishing form that they’re showing, it wouldn’t surprise me if SLNA got a positive result away at Thanh Hoa. You have to go back to the 13th of July 2011 for the last time that SLNA won away at Thanh Hoa. The omens are not on their side, but form certainly is.

Final Thoughts

Over the two legs, I’ll be surprised if SLNA don’t progress to the final once again. If Michael Olaha can continue his rich form as well, there’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll see SLNA defeat Thanh Hoa.

Until the next time.