U23 Asian Cup: Vietnam deserve quarterfinal place more than Thailand

By Steve Darby   June 9, 2022 | 04:00 am PT
U23 Asian Cup: Vietnam deserve quarterfinal place more than Thailand
Bui Hoang Viet Anh (2nd, L) celebrate with his teammates after scoring from a penalty against Malaysia in U23 Asian Cup on June 8, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Lam Thoa
Vietnam completed the job in the Malaysia game. Not only did they get the result they needed but they also played well, which is a bonus.

Vietnamese football needed a boost, after the footage of the Binh Thuan FC player Ngo Anh Vu punching the referee and refusing to leave the pitch spread around the football world. This image is really unhealthy for the reputation of Vietnamese football and they needed an immediate boost.

The U23 team provided the boost with a magnificent victory over Malaysia in the last group game of the 2022 U23 Asian Cup. Vietnam had to win, anything less would have sent them home. And they completed the job.

Vietnam also needed either South Korea or Thailand to win the other match to ensure second place. My prediction was that both South Korea and Vietnam would win. That's all that matters.

As it happened, I felt Vietnam also played well and gave an excellent performance. I thought they managed the game well especially in the second half when they obviously knew that South Korea were winning the other game and that a victory would ensure their second place. No need to go all out on attacking and risk conceding goals. They just made sure Malaysia could not come back, mostly by keeping possession of the ball in a confident manner, especially the defenders, which drew Malaysia players forward as they were chasing the ball and then exploiting the space behind them.

Vietnam won the game in the first half. They got the early first goal which immediately increased the chance of winning from 50 percent to 65 percent. The key was Nham Manh Dung. He was superb. The sign of a good player is when they perform well in the big games and this was indeed a big game. He showed great skill in the 18th minute when he turned and tried to beat the goalkeeper with a shot from about 45 m. It is not easy to turn the ball and notice that the goalkeeper is off the line and then try to shoot right away. It would have been the goal of the tournament if it had gone in. He followed up with another great shot in the 23rd minute and then in the 28th minute, he scored a real "center forward" style of goal. He started the play by passing the ball wide and found space in the penalty box between the two Malaysian defenders, then he met the excellent cross with a powerful header, leaving the goalkeeper no chance. That was the key goal, his hard work paid off and he was looking confident.

I have often said quality set pieces are essential and it looked like Vietnam have been working hard on them in preparation. Nguyen Hai Long hit a long-range freekick on target and the Malaysians started to panic and lose their discipline. Quentin Cheng should have received a red card for a wild tackle on a Vietnam player when Malaysia started to commit fouls all over the pitch. The Vietnam players were excellent in the way they kept their discipline. That showed the professional quality of the national players as opposed to the "idiot" who hit the referee. I do hope that player gets a life ban from football.

There is also luck in football and Vietnam got a little piece of luck when they got a penalty for a handball by a Malaysia player. No Vietnam player appealed and the referee was giving a goal kick. Then VAR stepped in and not only gave a penalty but the referee then gave the Malaysia player a red card. The Virgil Van Dijk of Vietnam, captain Bui Hoang Viet Anh, took the responsibility of taking the penalty which would probably win the game. To be honest it was an awful penalty and easily saved by the goalkeeper but Viet Anh kept calm and tapped in the rebound on the volley. It was game over. 2-0 to Vietnam and Malaysia never really looked like getting back into the game.

I also felt keeper Van Chuan proved his place on the team by making good saves and looking confident taking on crosses. He deserved the chance and he took it well! It will be a big decision for the coach if Nguyen Van Toan recovers from his injury. It looks like both goalkeepers are in top form.

So who will Vietnam face in the quarterfinals? In theory, there are three teams, Saudi Arabia, Japan and UAE. In reality, it will take two surprising results for UAE to qualify. I believe Saudi will beat UAE and Japan will beat Tajikistan. On paper, Japan have the easier game but they have to score a large number of goals to catch up with Saudi. It does look like Saudi will top the group and Vietnam will face them. I actually think this is the best outcome for Vietnam, as the Saudis whilst physically strong can often be prone to discipline. If Vietnam can get the first goal, if the key players like Van Chuan, Viet Anh and Manh Dung play at their peak, then it may well be possible to see Vietnam in the semifinals and one game away from the Olympics.

So I hope world football fans can see the good side of Vietnamese football and celebrate the win. The key result was getting a draw against South Korea. Remember that Vietnam are still unbeaten. They have to believe in themselves.

*Steve Darby is a former Thailand national coach.

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