Vinh Long, a relatively new face and tournament underdogs, entered the finals of the Under-21 National Football Championship 2013 after beating hosts Hai Phong 4-2 in a penalty shoot-out on Friday.
After finishing the group stage on top of Group B, Vinh Long was expected to continue their wonderful showing at the 17th edition of the tournament sponsored by Thanh Nien Newspaper and Saigon Beer-Alcohol-Beverage Joint Stock Corporation; and the young players from the Mekong Delta did not disappoint.
Hosts Hai Phong players were supported by a large crowd of home fans, but the absence of their five best players due to injuries and bookings affected them against opponents who were in high spirits after beating strong rivals Da Nang and Viettel to enter the semifinals.
The Friday semifinal match started with the hosts on the offence and Vinh Long looking to be slow and steady. But they were able to make most of the first scoring opportunity in just 14 minutes, with Minh Hoang collecting a great pass from teammate Dinh Truong on the left flank and slotting the ball home.
Hai Phong launched relentless attacks in response and found the leveler via Nguyen Thai Hoang 15 minutes after the break. The hosts stepped up their attacks after equalizing, but wasted all opportunities, including one in the 66th minute when Duc Phong was in a one-on-one situation against goalkeeper Van Huyen.
Van Cuong then managed to send the ball into the back of Vinh Long's goal just three minutes from full time but the referee ruled it off-side.
The 90 minutes ended in a draw and the winners had to be decided in a penalty shoot-out. Vinh Long's second shot by Thanh Thao was saved by Hai Phong's goalkeeper; but Hai Phong's Ngoc Thinh's and Khac Dat's shots went wide.
The win overwhelmed Vinh Long's coach Luong Trung Dan that he burst into tears and fainted for a while.
Speaking after the game, Hai Phong's coach Dylan Kerr said, "We wasted a dozen clear chances and we were not lucky enough in the penalty shoot-out. I would like to thank the home fans for their support."
Coach Dan said, "No other happiness in my life is as great as the happy moment today. The players put in a flawless performance. I am proud of their high spirit.
"We would like to dedicate this victory to the home fans in Vinh Long [Province], who have been with us, calling to give us support and encouragement match after match."
Vinh Long will play the final match against Hanoi T&T, who dethroned Song Lam Nghe An in the first semifinal match on Thursday.