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 the 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 have been sublime in the World Cup qualifiers with three consecutive victories and an unbeaten streak stretching to four matches so far, after beating the UAE 1-0 at home on November 14. FIFA has said that this is a historic achievement for Vietnamese football in the World Cup qualifying rounds. With no need to win against the Thais tonight, Vietnam have made history, as for the first time ever, they have 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 combined score of their 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 in the group. But amidst high confidence, Thailand were soon disillusioned by Malaysia. Aiming to win three points at the Harimau Malaya to create momentum to fight Vietnam, Thailand lost bitterly. Although claiming an early opener thanks to star Chanathip Songkrasin, the neglect of the Thai defence cost them with two consecutive conceded goals, leading to the 2-1 defeat.
The defeat by Malaysia causes Thailand to be 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 with six points both. Therefore, the three points against Vietnam in the match tonight will be important. Only victory against the direct rivals can help raise hope for Nishino’s side in competing for the top spot, while avoiding the chasing of the opponents from behind.
But that task does not seem easy for the War Elephants. Under pressure, especially after the painful loss in Malaysia, the Thai team are showing tension. They arrived in Hanoi quietly in a heavy mood and practiced in closed doors, 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 for themselves. Nishino also admitted at the pre-match press conference yesterday that he is under pressure when playing away to Vietnam.
Previously, Thailand were at the top in Southeast Asian football for a long time. But now, the throne has moved 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.
In the lead-up to the key match at My Dinh tonight, the Golden Stars are dominating over the opponents, both mentally and physically. The team are playing at home and did not take too much effort to beat the UAE four days ago. Meanwhile, after being tattered by Malaysia at Bukit Jalil, Thailand had to travel again to Hanoi with a heavy burden, 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 counterattacks – the playstyle in which they are at their best, waiting for Thailand to grow impatient and make 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 counterattacks to defeat their opponents, bringing efficiency and success beyond expectations.
Under Park Hang Seo’s coaching, Vietnamese football has 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 continue to 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 start 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 progressing to 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 advantage belongs to Vietnam. Thailand are still a strong team, having beaten the top favourites UAE, and are on the rise in the hands of Nishino. However, winning points against unbeaten Vietnam in the My Dinh “fortress” will not be easy for the visitors. During the reign of Park Hang-seo, Vietnam have won three times against the Thais and drew once. The next 90 minutes in 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 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 when Vietnam beat Yemen 2-0. He is considered to be a “lucky referee” for Vietnamese football by local fans.