Discipline is key for Vietnam at SEA Games

By Steve Darby   May 20, 2022 | 04:51 pm PT
Vietnam played with discipline throughout the SEA Games semifinal against Malaysia and won 1-0 in extra time and they need to keep it up in the final.

Although I lived for a long time in Vietnam and coached the women’s team to the 2001 SEA Games gold, I have a soft spot for Malaysia as I coached for seven seasons in their league and in fact, I coached the current Malaysian coach Brad Bugsy Maloney when he was a player in Australia.

The Malaysians were devastated by their draw with Cambodia which dropped them from first to second in their group and met Vietnam in the semifinal instead of Indonesia. I spoke to staff members of Malaysia, they were confident of beating Indonesia but knew Vietnam were going to be very difficult to play in front of a brilliant home crowd. Though to be fair Malaysia did bring a large crowd of "Ultras" to support them, but beating Vietnam was a game they wanted to play in the final, not in the semifinals. The semifinals are always the worst to play in, the most nerve-wracking as getting to the final is a great achievement but losing in a semifinal is just awful.

Vietnam deserved to win this game, they had by far the most possession and had numerous chances. They played the same way they always do and there is nothing wrong with that if you keep winning. Goalkeeper Nguyen Van Toan has done everything you can ask of him, five games and zero goals conceded is top class. The back three looked disciplined and most of all tough. They let the Malaysian players know they were in for a battle, they did it hard but fair.

I think defender Nguyen Thanh Binh can be a future star. He can defend and he can also bring the ball out in a controlled manner. He should be watching Virgil Van Dijk of Liverpool play at every opportunity he can and try to model himself on him. He is a good physique so he must continue to do weight training and most of all he should look to play overseas in a higher league. He must play in a league where he is going to be tested for at least 30 games. He can develop into a future star for Vietnam.

I don’t know Nguyen Hoang Duc or Do Hung Dung personally, but I get the impression that coach Park picked them not only for their ability but for their on and off field leadership. They look like excellent professionals, giving everything in every game and continually supporting the other players.

Vietnam had the pace out wide which is vital and I have no doubt that Vietnam have watched the Thailand game and saw that their left flank was weak. So, this could be a place to exploit in the final.

I was delighted that Nguyen Tien Linh scored the winner. He is a player who battles hard and must be so difficult to play against as he is both strong and also makes intelligent runs to make space for others. He is always in the danger zone and creates chances. He may not convert them all, because no striker can.

Forward Nguyen Tien Linh (L) in the SEA Games 31 semifinal with Malaysia, where he scored the winner, May 19, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Dong

Forward Nguyen Tien Linh (L) in the SEA Games 31 semifinal with Malaysia, where he scored the winner, May 19, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Dong

However, he needs to improve his finishing technique. So often he is in the right place but his body positioning is wrong. But let’s put this in perspective, he has only played 96 games of football in six seasons for his club (and scored 39 goals) and he must be given more game time at the club level. Most European professionals play 50 games a season. But there is no doubt that he deserves to play more and looks like there is no one to compete with him. Look at Nham Manh Dung, he worked so hard but has only played eight games for his club since 2019.

Discipline is the key in professional football and as we saw in the Thailand and Indonesia game indiscipline causes defeats. You don’t win games when you get three red cards. Years ago, the Vietnam players were often lacked discipline and used to fight over the slightest foul. I think coach Park has instilled strong tactical discipline into his team and also personal discipline.

How did Vietnam win this game? A moment of indiscipline by a Malaysian defender giving away a foul in a dangerous area when it was not necessary to do so. Vietnam did what they haven’t been doing in this tournament. They maximized the set-piece opportunity and Tien Linh made himself a hero.

The next step for Vietnam now is to rest, have quality sleep, do recovery exercises and eat the right food. They can become national heroes on Sunday but the Thais will be tough opponents with financial bonuses awaiting if they can win the gold medal.

Vietnam will play Thailand on Sunday in Hanoi.

*Steve Darby is a former Thailand national coach.

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