New style fits Vietnam football better: pundits

By Xuan Binh   January 17, 2024 | 03:48 am PT
English football coach and pundit Paul Watson says Vietnam's style of play under coach Philippe Troussier is a better fit than prior leadership.

"What a fantastic performance from Vietnam," Watson told VnExpress after their 2-4 defeat against Japan at the Asian Cup's group stage in Qatar on Sunday.

"I was especially impressed with their intentions towards attack when playing a side like Japan. I watched Vietnam quite a lot before and [wasn't expecting] the flair they showed in attack, which was hugely impressive."

Watson noted the particular savvy of one of Vietnam's more popular new players: "Nguyen Dinh Bac is a star in the making to be playing like that at such a young age."

Vietnam forward Nguyen Dinh Bac (in red) dribbles in the game against Japan in Asian Cup group stage on Jan. 14, 2024. Photo by VnExpress/Lam Thoa

Vietnam forward Nguyen Dinh Bac (in red) dribbles against Japan during the Asian Cup group stage on Jan. 14, 2024. Photo by VnExpress/Lam Thoa

Watson was once the youngest gaffer to ever coach a national football team when he managed Oceania side Micronesia at the age of 25.

He then spent time coaching in Mongolia, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and also worked a roving reporter for Football Italia.

He currently produces a podcast called The Sweeper, which focuses on European and Asian football.

"I personally believe Troussier’s style will work best here, but I do think he’s building on a past structure that allowed Vietnam to get this far," Watson said.

He also compared Vietnam’s more defensive "counter-attack football" strategy under previous South Korean head coach Park Hang-seo with their new more aggressive "possession football" system implemented by coach Troussier.

"My feeling is that in the past Vietnam invited pressure on themselves and also committed more fouls to break the game up. This current possession style suits better because it reduces that pressure on the defense, plus it releases the creativity of the attacking players better. In the long term I think this style will encourage this younger generation of players to improve and take the team to another level," he said.

Vietnam had Japan surprised mid-match at Al Thumama Stadium on Sunday when they led 2-1 after goals by Nguyen Dinh Bac and Pham Tuan Hai.

However, Japan's leveled-up to their dominant standards and scored three goals to complete the 4-2 comeback.

Either way, Vietnam's performance was praised by both Japanese coach Hajime Moriyasu and his players.

At 41% possession and 530 passes with an accuracy rate of 81%, Vietnam's match statistics were not far behind Japan. The team also had six shots, a dramatic improvement from when they didn't have a single shot against Iraq at the 2026 World Cup qualifiers in November 2023.

Japan Times reporter Dan Orlowitz was also surprised by Vietnam's playing style.

"Vietnam were organized and seemed to know how to punish Japan in set-pieces and counterattacks," Orlowitz told VnExpress. "Vietnam can make Japan’s defense sweat. Vietnamese fans can be proud of what Troussier and his team did in this match."

Vietnam still have a lot of work to do if they want to get past the group stage of the Asian Cup this year. The team will need to beat Indonesia in the second match on Jan. 19. But by scoring two goals and not receiving any yellow cards, the team will have a slight advantage if they finish third in group D and have to compare their stats with the third-placed teams in other groups.

"I think what’s tough is maintaining the intensity required to play in that style, especially on defense. Sometimes players need to be calmer in possession and decision making but that will come with time. I think Vietnam will beat Indonesia but Iraq is too close to call," Watson said.

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