AFC analyzes Vietnam's performance in U23 Championship

By Hoang Nguyen   May 21, 2020 | 06:21 am PT
AFC analyzes Vietnam's performance in U23 Championship
Vietnam U23 team after being disqualified from the 2020 AFC U23 Championship in 1-2 defeat against North Korea on January 18, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Dong.
A technical report by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) goes over all aspects of Vietnam’s performance at the 2020 U23 Championship played in Thailand.

"With the runners-up tag from the previous edition and a generation of talented players, Vietnam went into the 2020 tournament as one of the title contenders, but by the time their third group game arrived, their fate was already out of their hands," the AFC wrote.

"There were glimpses of quality from Park Hang-seo’s men as they were held to a goalless draw on the opening matchday of the group, but Vietnam's attacking woes continued as they failed to score for a second time in a row, settling for a 0-0 draw against Jordan."

Vietnam went through 196 minutes without scoring a goal, drawing 0-0 against Jordan and UAE, before netting their only goal in the 1-2 defeat to North Korea before exiting the tournament after the group stage.

The AFC also analyzed the formation Vietnam used in the tournament, noticing the trend of using a backline of three instead of the traditional four. In this formation, also adopted by North Korea, Japan, Jordan, and Qatar, the role of the wing-backs is crucial.

Choi Seung Bum, member of the AFC’s Technical Study Group, said: "We could see that teams playing three central defenders found it easier to exploit the wide areas. The athletic qualities of the wing-backs become fundamental, as any shortfall in fitness gives space to the other team."

The purpose of using this formation is to create a numerical advantage in midfield for more attacking options.

But the flip side is that it exposes space in the defense that can be exploited.

Morteza Mohases, member of the AFC’s Technical Committee, said: "The weak point was often the unguarded space in the wide areas and coverage of the vital space between the goalkeeper and the back three. Opponents were usually intelligent enough to position attackers in the wide areas to stretch the defense."

The technical observers also stressed the importance of coaching center-backs in the art of one-on-one defending and establishing how high the line of three could operate since playing with three at the back gives more opportunities for small, tricky attackers.

In this year’s tournament Vietnam did not have Doan Van Hau, the best left wing-back in the country at the moment, due to a conflict in schedule, forcing Do Thanh Thinh, who had played very well on the right, to move to the left. Several players were then tried on the right, but no one was very good, meaning Vietnam struggled both at the front and back.

The report also touched a topic that has been under discussion for a long time: What are the pros and cons of having the senior national team coach in charge of the U23 team like Vietnam, Australia, Japan, Qatar, and Thailand do?

Observers highlighted the advantages in terms of connectivity, tactical cohesion and awareness of the coach’s demands, plus a huge boost of motivational factors for the younger players.

On the other hand, the senior team coach will prefer to use national team players or more experienced players in the U23 team, leaving younger players, mainly aged 18-20, out in the cold.

Throughout the tournament Park started with players aged 22 or 23. Nguyen Quang Hai and Nguyen Tien Linh, whom the AFC said were the best players for Vietnam in the tournament based on statistics, are both 23.

General evaluation of AFC on Vietnam in the U23 Championship technical report. Photo courtesy of Asian Football Confederation.

The AFC’s evaluation of Vietnam at the U23 Championship. Photo courtesy of Asian Football Confederation.

The report listed the key features of Vietnam’s style of play, which included using a 3-4-3 formation and rapidly switching to 5-4-1 when defending, "fierce pressure on the ball carrier, fluent construction through thirds with assured combination play and fast collective counters with as many as six players pushing forward."

Vietnam’s statistics from the tournament include a 66 percent success rate in corners though the team only produced an average of 14 crosses per game and a success rate of 24 percent.

The long pass success rate for goalkeeper Bui Tien Dung, who started all three games, was only 11.8 percent, the third lowest in the tournament.

The biennial AFC U23 Championship was played from January 8 to 26. Uzbekistan were the defending champions, but were eliminated in the semi-finals. South Korea claimed the title after beating Saudi Arabia in the final.

This year’s competition also served as qualifiers for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, which has been postponed to 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The 32 matches produced 69 goals, a 16 percent decline from the 2018 event.

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