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Vietnam under AFF Cup pressure

By Hoang Nguyen   November 26, 2021 | 10:42 pm PT
Low spirit after a series of losses and a lack of some key players due to injuries are among challenges Vietnam will have to overcome to defend their AFF Cup title in December.

After seven consecutive World Cup qualifying losses against the top teams in Asia, Vietnam will play in a tournament more fitting to their level: AFF Cup. However, challenges await and the pressure is real.

This time, Vietnam are in a different place compared to three years ago. They are under the pressure of being the top team in Southeast Asia and the only team in the region to advance to the final round of 2022 World Cup qualifiers.

However, unlike three years ago, Vietnam will enter AFF Cup without many key players due to injuries. Main title competitors like Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia are set to field the strongest players in the tournament, since they didn't have to play World Cup qualifiers and had more preparation time than Vietnam.

"Our target during AFF Cup is to defend the title. Many key players are injured and we need to find replacements. We need to continue finding new faces if we want to win AFF Cup again," head coach Park Hang-seo told the press after the national team's World Cup qualifier against Japan on Nov. 11.

Vietnam national team during a training session in Vung Tau beach town on November 21, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Dong

Vietnam national team during a training session in Vung Tau beach town on November 21, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Dong

Seven losses in a row also affected the mentality of players, including Phan Van Duc, who is under criticism for underperforming in recent matches.

"I was under great pressure recently. After my poor performances, I hope fans will still support me. I promise I will train harder so I can return to form," the midfielder said.

Park also admitted players need to let loose mentally after the World Cup qualification defeats.

"The mentality of players is pretty heavy now. I need to find a way to take the pressure off their shoulders," Park said.

New experience

Despite suffering losses, playing Asia's top teams in the final round of World Cup qualifiers has given the Golden Dragons more valuable experience and made them stronger.

"We were having a tough journey in the final round of World Cup qualifiers, facing really strong opponents. But that's a great chance for the team to reflect and prepare better for AFF Cup," defender Do Duy Manh said.

In addition, there are many players in the squad who didn't win the 2018 title with the team, so their determination for the top spot in this tournament will be high. Key players like Nguyen Tuan Anh, Vu Van Thanh, Bui Tan Truong and Tran Minh Vuong will want to add an AFF Cup medal to their collection.

For other players, they are determined to find their confidence and motivation to defend the title.

"The team must forget recent defeats and aim for the next target, which is AFF Cup," forward Nguyen Cong Phuong said.

"Hopefully, the team will get their spirit up to put the best effort in, for Vietnam and the fans. Maybe it’s easier to play against Southeast Asian teams, but the mentality is the most important thing at the moment and the team must improve it after consecutive losses."

Nguyen Cong Phuong (2nd, L) and his teammates during training in Vung Tau beach town on November 21, 2021. Photo by Vietnam Football Federation

Nguyen Cong Phuong (2nd, L) and his teammates during training in Vung Tau beach town on November 21, 2021. Photo by Vietnam Football Federation

Winning AFF Cup this year will be a huge boost for the team, reducing the pressure and creating a whole different state when they continue their World Cup qualifying journey next year.

AFF Cup is set to take place from Dec. 5 to Jan. 1 in Singapore. It was supposed to take place in 2020, but was postponed due to Covid-19. The organizers decided to keep the name AFF Cup 2020 for sponsorship purposes.

Vietnam are in group B with Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia and Laos.

Coach Park has called up 34 players to prepare for the tournament, but only 25 will be selected after the training period.

 
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