I thought Vietnam would crumble after conceding against South Korea

By Steve Darby   June 6, 2022 | 01:07 am PT
I thought Vietnam would crumble after conceding against South Korea
Ly Cong Hoang Anh (number 22) is fouled during the U23 Asian Cup game between Vietnam and South Korea on June 5, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Lam Thoa
When South Korea got the breakthrough goal I thought the game was over! Would Vietnam crumble after all the effort?

That is often the case. When teams work hard to defend they tend to collapse physically and mentally when they concede a goal. But I was wrong.

This was a game where Vietnam would have been delighted with a draw and possibly a very narrow defeat. This would mean that Vietnam would have to beat Malaysia in the last game of the group and hope Thailand get a worse result. Though Thailand still have to beat Malaysia in the later game.

Two changes for Vietnam stood out, Nham Manh Dung returning to his role as a striker and Nguyen Thanh Binh returning to the defense. Also, Luong Duy Cuong is a defender but was playing as a defensive midfielder.

The key change however was goalkeeper Quan Van Chuan coming in after being a substitute for Nguyen Van Toan in the previous match. Would he be nervous, you wonder. In reality, he was bound to be busy. In the first half, he showed he was an excellent defender with two good saves in the 12th and 41st minutes and also showed confidence when he caught a good cross under pressure and produced a powerful punch in the last minute of the half to take pressure off the Vietnam players.

The first half was South Korea's! They dominated the statistics in passing, possession and shots. Vietnam defended deep and in numbers but what impressed me was their bravery in blocking Korean shots. This is an undervalued defensive skill and they really put their body on the line a number of times.

Vietnam's attacks were rare in the first half, and again it showed that they are wasting set-pieces as they had one corner and two freekicks in dangerous areas but all came to no result. The only chance in open play was a good opportunity for Vu Tien Long, but he went for power rather than accuracy. No matter how hard you kick a ball, it must be on target as even a missed shot can become a goal. But this chance was blasted into the side of the net.

Overall, Vietnam looked like they were being bullied by the bigger and more powerful South Korea players. I hear people question why did they play defensively? Sometimes you don't have a choice! I coached Laos to play against South Korea with Son Heung-min in the team in the World Cup qualifiers and we never get to the other side of the field, as the fitness of South Korea players helped them put pressure all over the pitch and it was impossible to build up attacks. This is what was happening in the first half. The South Koreans pushed forward and pressed Vietnam all over the pitch.

The same pattern emerged in the second half with constant pressure from South Korea. Vietnam were physically giving everything in their efforts to keep the opponent from scoring.

The goal scored by Cho Young-Wook was a well-taken one, with Nguyen Thanh Binh being too far away from Cho and by the time he turned, Binh was not getting close enough. A lack of concentration gave the South Korea forward space to turn and shoot. At the international level that is an error that can decide the game.

Obviously, this Vietnam team have character and mental strength. They came out of their defensive stance and attacked South Korea, taking the risk that this would leave the opponent more space and they could concede more goals.

But there is luck in football. Vietnam got a deserved free kick on the edge of the penalty box, and although they wasted yet another set-piece by hitting the wall, the second yellow card of Lee Jin-young got South Korea down to 10 men. This seemed to galvanize Vietnam and they attacked more. When Phan Tuan Tai made a cross into the box, it went past every South Korea defender but ended up at Tien Long, who made up for his first-half miss with a superb strike into the top corner.

The South Koreans were shocked and the few Vietnamese fans in the Tashkent stadium went crazy.

Vietnam almost created the upset of the tournament when they had a last chance in the 94th minute. A great dribbling effort in the penalty box by Nguyen Hai Long ended up with a save by the goalkeeper and a chance for Nguyen Van Tung, who had come on as a substitute to get a tap-in. Sadly, he hit it over the bar.

The Vietnamese were delighted with this draw while it was devastating for South Korea. They know it's a game they should have won but the hard work, self-belief and character of Vietnam prevented them from winning. That, plus goalkeeping and perhaps a little bit of luck.

With Thailand beating Malaysia easily, what must Vietnam do now to qualify for the quarterfinals? Firstly and essentially they have to win against Malaysia. A draw will not be enough. Vietnam need to earn three points. South Korea and Thailand already have four points each. So Vietnam must win to get five points and watch the result between Thailand and Korea. Either of these teams winning will help Vietnam advance if they defeat Malaysia. A draw between South Korea and Thailand will see the group go down to goal differences. At the moment that is not the best option for Vietnam as they then must get a big win against Malaysia. Both games should be played at the same time for the drama. But the main thing is Vietnam must beat Malaysia or it is goodbye.

*Steve Darby is a former Thailand national coach.

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