No sleep for Vietnam football as five int'l titles beckon

By Hoang Nguyen   January 7, 2020 | 08:04 pm GMT+7
Football fans will get to live and breathe goal fever in 2020 with five major tournaments to bring life to a halt.

2019 was a fruitful year for Vietnamese football after the Asian Cup success, World Cup qualification and SEA Games triumph. With wheels well-greased, this year promises more joy rides.

2020 AFC U23 Championship

The first tournament of the year will take place in Thailand from January 8 to 26. In its fourth edition, the biennial international age-restricted football championship is organized by Asian Football Confederation (AFC) for men's U23 teams from across Asia. A total 16 teams, divided into four groups, will compete for the trophy.

Vietnam celebrate their 6-0 victory at the AFC U23 Championship qualification match against Brunei in Hanoi, March 22, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.

Vietnam celebrate their 6-0 victory at the AFC U23 Championship qualification match against Brunei in Hanoi, March 22, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.

The tournament will act as AFC qualifier for Olympic Tokyo 2020, with the top three teams set to commence to the grand event. Vietnam will enter this tournament as runners-up and will surely want to aim higher to secure a place at the Olympics. But the mission will not be easy.

In 2018, Vietnam were the underdogs when beating stronger teams to make the final. This year will be more difficult because everyone's already aware of Vietnam's strength, therefore players will have to put their best efforts to the test. Compared to the 2018 contest, the 2020 squad includes many new and familiar faces, with Doan Van Hau absent due to a scheduling conflict with his Dutch club.

If Vietnam can recreate or go beyond its 2018 feat, it will be a memorable Lunar New Year for many Vietnamese fans.

Women's qualifiers at 2020 Olympics

It's no dispute that 2019 was a dominating year for Vietnamese women's football as the team convincingly won Women’s AFF Cup and SEA Games 30 gold.

The womens team celebrates after winning the gold medal in SEA Games 30 on December 8, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Dong.

The women's team celebrates after winning the gold medal at SEA Games 30 on December 8, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Dong.

Their first challenge this year will be the 2020 Olympics third qualification round, which will occur right after AFC U23 Championship from February 3 to 9. Vietnam will only have to face South Korea and Myanmar in group A, as North Korea have withdrawn.

With the good news, Vietnam's chances to reach the final round is bright, with two out of three teams in group A set to proceed. South Korea is most likely to take top spot as one of the strongest Asian teams, leaving second place a competition between Vietnam and their weaker opponents Myanmar.

And here comes the bad news. Defender Chuong Thi Kieu and key midfielder Nguyen Thi Bich Thuy are still racing with time to recover for the tournament, while goalkeeper Nguyen Thi Kim Thanh is absent from training due to university obligations. Head coach Mai Duc Chung will have to make some adjustments to the team ahead of playing South Korea on February 3.

2022 World Cup qualification

Vietnam's national football team closed 2019 with an intense 0-0 draw against arch rival Thailand at My Dinh National Stadium. The result gained Vietnam a little advantage ahead of the 2020 season, starting with an away match against Malaysia at Bukit Jalil Stadium on March 31. After, the team will return to My Dinh to play Indonesia on April 6 before facing UAE in the final group G game at their home stadium Mohammed Bin Zayed on June 9.

Vietnam (red) play Thailand in a 2020 World Cup qualification match on September 5, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Lam Thoa.

Vietnam (red) play Thailand in a 2020 World Cup qualification match on September 5, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Lam Thoa.

The away games are quite challenging for Vietnam because both UAE and Malaysia can play very well at home thanks to the immense support of their fans. Home games will not be easy for the Golden Dragons either, as Indonesia just appointed a new coach and promised to introduce a different style of play.

Vietnam are currently top of group G on 11 points after five games, followed by Malaysia (nine points) and Thailand (eight points). They need to win two out of three remaining matches to secure a place in the next round and also directly qualify for 2023 Asian Cup.

Key national players will continue to face a busy year, as club and international fixtures follow close on each other's heels. Head coach Park Hang-seo will have to plan carefully to ensure his players avoid exhaustion and keep their form on the field.

AFC U19 Championship

The biennial international youth competition organized by AFC will be held in Uzbekistan from October 14 to 31. It is a chance for young players - the future of Vietnamese football, to show their talents. After struggling in the qualifiers, the U19 team have yet to impress as their performance did not meet expectations.

Two players trying to win the ball in the last game of AFC U19 qualifiers between Vietnam and Japan on November 10, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Dong.

Two players compete for the ball during the last game of AFC U19 qualifiers between Vietnam (white) and Japan on November 10, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Dong.

At the 2018 tournament, Vietnam were disqualified at group stage with three losses, thus failing to qualify for U20 World Cup 2019. But Philippe Troussier, the new head coach from France, promises to bring a new face to the team. His experience of coaching national teams like South Africa, Japan and Nigeria is expected to help the team as they compete for a slot at 2021 U20 World Cup.

2020 AFF Cup

The final big tournament of the year is also the most anticipated. With Vietnam defending champions, fans are expecting the Golden Dragons to repeat their 2018 feat.

The players lift the AFF Cup 2018 trophy in My Dinh National Stadium on December 15, 2018. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Dong.

Players lift the AFF Cup 2018 trophy at My Dinh National Stadium on December 15, 2018. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Dong.

However, it will not be easy as teams across Southeast Asia have improved quickly since the last AFF Cup event. For example, the U19 teams of Laos and Cambodia have qualified for the AFC U19 Championship. In SEA Games 30, Cambodia and Myanmar went head to head during the third-place play-off. It showed these teams have had considerable success in training new players, which could help make the tournament more competitive and challenging this year.

Furthermore, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia were never comfortable opponents to face, especially at regional tournaments. With the possibility of Australia joining the tournament (Australia is now a member of ASEAN Football Federation), the task of defending the trophy will be much more difficult for Vietnam.

The final tournament of the year will take place from November 23 to December 31.

 
 
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