Source: Socialist Republic of Vietnam
Vietnam are to take on their Southeast Asian rivals at Hanoi’s My Dinh National Stadium tonight, aiming to collect full three points to consolidate their top spot in Group G of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 joint qualifiers. Under the reign of Park, the Golden Stars are sublime in the World Cup qualifiers with three consecutive victories and an unbeaten stretching to four matches so far, after beating the UAE 1-0 at home on November 14. The FIFA has said that this is the historic achievement of Vietnamese football in the World Cup qualifying rounds. No need to win against the Thai tonight, Vietnam have made history, as for the first time ever, they accumulated the highest score in the World Cup qualifiers. Currently, Vietnam are leading Group G of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers with 10 points, nearly equal to the total score of the previous two World Cup qualifiers (seven points in the 2018 and four points in the 2006 World Cup qualifying campaigns).
Meanwhile, Thailand shot themselves in the foot after a 2-1 defeat to Malaysia at Bukit Jalil in Kuala Lumpur five days earlier. Starting the new era of coach Akira Nishino with a 0-0 draw to Vietnam in September, the War Elephants continued to demonstrate certain progress in the hands of the new Japanese coach with a victory over Indonesia and especially a 2-1 win last month over the UAE – the top favourites to win the group. But amidst high confidence, Thailand were soon disillusioned in Malaysia. Claiming to win three points at the Harimau Malaya to create momentum to fight Vietnam, Thailand lost bitterly. Although having an early opener thanks to star Chanathip Songkrasin, the neglect of the Thai defence costed them two consecutive conceded goals, leading to the 2-1 defeat.
The defeat of Malaysia makes Thailand disillusioned and face disadvantages in the encounter with Vietnam. (Photo: FA Thailand)
After four matches played, Thailand are temporarily ranked second in Group G with seven points. The defeat to Malaysia caused them to lose the top spot, placing three points behind Vietnam, while the UAE and Malaysia are also close on with six points both. Therefore, the three points against Vietnam in the match tonight will be important. Only victory against the direct rivals could help raise hope for Nishino’s side in competing for the top spot, while avoiding the chasing of the opponents behind.
But that task seems not easy for the War Elephants. Under pressure, especially after the painful loss in Malaysia, the Thai team are showing tense. They arrived to Hanoi quietly in a heavy mood and practiced in close door as barring the host country’s media from approaching the team. They refused to practice on a field prepared by the Vietnamese side and hired the replacement by their own. Nishino also admitted at the pre-match press conference yesterday that he was under pressure when playing away to Vietnam.
Previously, Thailand were for long at top in Southeast Asian football. But now, the throne has turned to Vietnam. Therefore, tonight’s game is not just a match to win, it also has many meanings in the current context and the correlation between the two arch rivals in the region.
Vietnam are on a three-match winning run, having only dropped points in a 0-0 draw with Thailand last September, and will be clear favourites when the two sides lock horns again, said the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). They are the only undefeated team in Group G and Park hang-seo’s men will be targeting another three points.
Before the key match at My Dinh tonight, the Golden Stars are dominating the opponents, both mentally and physically. The home team are playing at home and did not take too much efforts to beat the UAE four days earlier. Meanwhile, after being tattered by Malaysia at Bukit Jalil, Thailand had to travel again to Hanoi with a heavy burden by the task of beating Vietnam – the only unbeaten side in the group – at home.
Nishino (far right) and Thai players face a difficult task as they are forced to beat hosts Vietnam. (Photo: FA Thailand)
That will lead to different ways of approaching the game by both sides. Thailand are underdogs and need three points, so they will probably have to play offensive right from the beginning. Meanwhile, it is an advantage for Vietnam. Coach Park wants to win, so do his players and the Vietnamese fans, but they don’t have to attack to win at all costs. The mental comfort will help Vietnam to enter the game with counterattack – the playstyle that they are in the best, waiting for Thailand’s impatience and making mistakes. Vietnam’s defence is still a strong fulcrum, proven through the recent major tournaments in the international arena. Thanks to the stability in the defensive line, they have promoted the counter-attacks to defeat the opponents, bringing efficiency and success beyond expectations.
Under Park Hang Seo’s coaching, Vietnamese football have been enhanced thanks to the great work of an excellent defence. But the system is not limited to the three-man defensive line led by captain Que Ngoc Hai. Defensive duties are spread evenly across all 11 players on the field. The match against Thailand tonight is hardly an exception. Most likely, Park will still use the starting lineup as in the previous win against the UAE. In the wooden frame is still Dang Van Lam, while the three centre-backs cannot be other than Que Ngoc Hai – Bui Tien Dung – Duy Manh. The two wings will still be occupied by left-back Doan Van Hau and right-back Trong Hoang, and the midfield will feature Tuan Anh and Hung Dung. After exploding with two goals in the last two matches, striker Tien Linh will probably continue to be started from the beginning, while Cong Phuong could also be a viable option. Star Quang Hai and Van Toan will continue to be on the two wings in the attacking line.
Vietnam are full of hope for qualifying for the third qualifying round of a World Cup for the first time ever. (Photo: VNA)
But no matter how Park choose his starting XI, it is undeniable that the advantages belong to Vietnam. Thailand are still a strong team, having beating the top favourites UAE and are on the rise in the hands of Nishino. However, winning points against Vietnam in the unbeaten My Dinh “fortress” now is not easy for the visitors. During the reign of Park Hang-seo, Vietnam have won three times against the Thai and drew once. The next 90 minutes on My Dinh Stadium will be another testament to the strength of the new Vietnamese team against their arch rivals.
The crunch match will take place at 8 pm today with Ahmed Al-Kaf serving as match referee. Earlier, the AFC has announced that a team of referees from Oman has been appointed to officiate Vietnam’s clash with Thailand, with Al-Kaf serving as match referee. He took charge of two games involving the Vietnamese team at the AFC U23 Championship 2018 finals, including the game against Syria in the group stages and Uzbekistan in the finals. At the Asian Cup 2019 finals, Al-Kaf was referee as Vietnam beat Yemen 2-0. He is considered a “lucky referee” for Vietnamese football by local fans.