AFC Asian Cup: A modest, challenging goal for Vietnam

By Xuan Binh   January 8, 2019 | 03:00 am PT
AFC Asian Cup: A modest, challenging goal for Vietnam
Vietnam (red) play Iraq at the AFC U23 Championship in January 2018. Photo by VnExpress/Anh Khoa
Vietnam's primary aim is to get through the group stage, but it needs at least a draw in its first game against Iraq.

In 2018, the Vietnamese men's football team notched up a string of successes. They were runner up at the U23 Asian Cup, finished fourth in the Asian Games and won the AFF Cup.

They start of the new year with a challenge that is at another, higher level. The AFC Asian Cup is the number one tournament in Asia. Vietnam had got through the group stage in the 2007 edition, and even made it to the quarter finals, but that year, they had a massive home advantage.

Under current coach Park Hang-seo, Vietnam has defeated many bigger teams like Australia, Iraq, Qatar and Japan, but these were not the national teams. At the AFF Cup 2018, the team also beat big regional opponents like Malaysia and the Philippines. But, at the Asian Cup this year, Vietnam has been placed in group D with much stronger opponents like Iran, a World Cup 2018 participant, and Iraq, Asian Cup champions in 2007.

Head coach Park Hang-seo in a teams training. Photo courtesy of AFC.

Head coach Park Hang-seo in a team's training. Photo courtesy of AFC

Vietnam has never beaten Iraq at the national team level in the three times they have met so far. The first time was at the Asian Cup 2007 quarter finals when they lost 0-2. In the qualification round of World Cup 2018, Vietnam faced Iraq twice, drawing once and losing once.

Iraq has enjoyed a good preparation for the Asian Cup this year, beating China and Palestine in two friendly matches. And like Vietnam, Iraq will go with the 3-4-3 formation tonight. Their midfielder, Osama Rashid, plays for C.D. Santa Clara in the Primeira Liga, the top league in Portugal.

In such a tough group, Vietnam will have to find a way to make it to the next stage. In this year’s tournament, the format has changed from 16 teams to 24 teams. The six groups (A to F) still have four teams each, with the top two from each group going through to the knockout phase. However, the four best third-ranked sides also progress, leaving 16 teams going into the new round-of-16 knockout phases. And that’s what Vietnam is aiming for.

In a recent interview, coach Park said he considered Iran too strong, but said Vietnam will try to get four points in two games against Iraq and Yemen (one point against Iraq and three points with Yemen).

"We have been training hard after the AFF Cup. The team is greatly motivated to have a successful tournament. Iran, Iraq and Yemen are all strong teams, but so is Vietnam," Park said.

Vietnam's 23-strong squad for this tournament has some small changes. Key defender Tran Dinh Trong will be absent due to injury and a possible replacement might be centreback Bui Tien Dung, who was a regular starter at the U23 Asian Cup and Asian Cup.

Forward Nguyen Anh Duc, after his retirement from international football, will be replaced by Nguyen Tien Linh, the top goal scorer of V. League 2018.

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