Without Lam, Vietnam's goalkeepers-in-waiting have big shoes to fill

By Xuan Binh   June 3, 2021 | 12:00 am PT
Without Lam, Vietnam's goalkeepers-in-waiting have big shoes to fill
Dang Van Lam shows off Vietnam's national flag on his jersey after a save for the national football team. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.
With Dang Van Lam out of the picture for now, Vietnam's national men's football team face the challenging task of filling a large gap.

In the 89th minute of the Asian Cup qualifying game between Vietnam and Jordan on June 13, 2017, when the score was 0-0, midfielder Ahmed Samir had a great chance to score as he faced Lam one on one. Everyone thought it was a goal for Jordan for sure, but Lam proved equal to his task. He came off the goal line to pressure Samir and narrow his shooting angle, leaving the latter with no other option but shoot at the near corner. Lam blocked it with his left foot and saved Vietnam from a defeat.

That was Lam’s first game for the national team, two years after he had written a Facebook post, expressing his desire to play for Vietnam. He was the man of the match in his very first game, with three more amazing saves. Vietnam didn't score but also didn't concede either, thanks to the Vietnamese-Russian keeper.

Since then, Lam has gone on to become Vietnam's top goalkeeper. He has played 24 games for the national team, not missing a game in big tournaments.

Lam’s goalkeeping ability is aided by a long arm span and 1.88 m height. His aerial game is strong and in one on one situations, his strategy is to come off the goal line on time to narrow the shooting angle, and then use both arms and legs to try and block the shot.

Statistics show why Lam is the number one choice. In 24 games for Vietnam, he has kept a clean sheet in 14 for a ratio of 58 percent. He has conceded 15 goals, an average of 0.6 goals per game. Of course, these stats also show the effectiveness of Vietnam’s defense as a whole.

A truer evaluation of Lam's ability can come from a look at his saves. The 28-year-old keeper didn't miss a minute of the AFF Cup 2018, Asian Cup 2019 and the first five games of World Cup qualifiers. In these three tournaments, he played a total of 18 games, faced 60 shots on the goal and saved 48 of them. His save percentage is 80 percent, which means he has conceded once every five shots.

With Lam in the goal, Vietnam have a higher chance of keeping a clean sheet, with the team receiving an average of three shots on goal per game. Lam's best performance so far was his most recent game for Vietnam against Thailand at the World Cup qualifiers on November 19, 2019. He made seven saves in that match.

Coach Park Hang-seo will have a hard time choosing a replacement after Lam was unable join the national team for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers because he’d had contact with a Covid-19 case at his current club, Japan’s Cerezo Osaka.

Park’s options for the guardian position are Bui Tan Truong, Nguyen Van Hoang and Nguyen Van Toan. The save percentage of these keepers in V. League are 74, 71 and 69, respectively.

Bui Tan Truong (C) is set to replace Dang Van Lam for the next games in World Cup qualifiers. Photo by VnExpress/Lam Thoa.

(From L) Goalkeepers Nguyen Van Toan, Bui Tan Truong and Nguyen Van Hoang train for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers in Dubai, UAE, May 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Lam Thoa.

Among the three options, Truong is the most experienced keeper. But the 35-year-old is known for making mistakes in big games. Truong has played five games for the national team and conceded six goals, three of which were unforced errors.

However, those mistakes were made 10 years ago. Since Truong joined Hanoi FC last year, he has been in good form and has become the club’s main keeper. His experience also makes Truong the most likely and reasonable option to replace Lam in the three upcoming matches of World Cup qualifiers.

Vietnam will need at least seven points from its matches with Indonesia (June 7), Malaysia (June 11) and the UAE (June 15) to secure a place in the final qualification round for the first time in history.

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