What should Vietnam U23s do to progress to AFC U23 Championship finals?

Monday, 2019-03-25 12:57:31
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Earning a dramatic 1-0 victory over Indonesia U23s but big challenges ahead for Vietnam U23s to win tickets to the finals of the 2020 AFC U23 Championship. (Photo: AFC)
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NDO – Despite two perfect wins after the first two match days of the ongoing 2020 AFC U23 Championship qualifiers in group K, Vietnam U23s still sit second after Thailand U23s, who also won both their opening matches. To realise the goal of entering the final tournament next year, coach Park Hang-seo's side have no choice but to beat their Thai rivals when they meet in the last qualifying match on March 26.

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Earning a dramatic 1-0 victory over Indonesia U23s with a header in the fourth minute of stoppage time from midfielder Trieu Viet Hung, Vietnam have won six full points after two matches. However, as the Thais had previously destroyed Brunei 8-0, Vietnam had to give up the top spot in group K to the "War Elephants". Thailand U23s are temporarily at the top with six points like Vietnam U23s but superior in goal difference (+12 versus +7).

According to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC)’s regulations, a total of 16 teams will qualify for the finals, including the 11 teams topping the 11 qualifying groups and four second-placed teams with the best results, along with Thailand U23s who qualified automatically as hosts.

If the Thais finish the qualifying round with the current top spot, there will be an extra slot for the fifth second-place team with the best results. This means that if Vietnam U23s want to automatically qualify for the finals, they must beat Thailand U23s to reclaim the first place in group K in the do-or-die clash with their bitter rivals on Tuesday night.

Thailand U23s flexed their muscles after the two emphatic victories over Indonesia U23s and Brunei U23s. (Photo: AFC)

If they draw or lose to the Thais, Park's side will close the qualifying round with second place behind Thailand U23s and they will no longer have the right to self-determine the ticket, as they will have to compare their sub-indexes with the other second-placed teams to find out the five best teams winning tickets to attend the finals early next year.

However, as Pakistan U23s suddenly withdrew from group F (group F has only three teams), the results against the fourth-placed teams in the four-team groups are not considered for this ranking. Therefore, Vietnam's 6-0 thumping win over Brunei (standing at the bottom of group K) will not be included in the ranking method for this group.

Currently, in the second-placed team rankings, Vietnam are facing disadvantages after finishing their first two matches. Coach Park’s side only have three points and goal difference at +1 (not counting the results of the match against fourth-placed Brunei in group K). Vietnam are temporarily ranked ninth out of 11 runner-up teams in the current table, just above Bahrain (with the same goal difference and score but lost to Vietnam on the disciplinary points) and Hong Kong (China) – who have won only one point and zero in goal difference.

Temporary rankings of second-place teams in the 11 groups (do not count results against the bottom teams). Vietnam U23s are at a disadvantage in competing for a position in the Top 5 of this group.

Meanwhile, there is a tough competition for a place in the top five best second place team rankings. Five teams temporarily lead this group (all with three points) including Australia (+6 in goal difference), Myanmar (+4), Iran (+2), Syria U23 (+ 2) and Tajikistan (+2), respectively. The teams that followed up above Vietnam also take advantage of the goal difference and disciplinary points compared to Park’s side. In the last match day, there will be a chance in this rankings, but nothing is certain when Vietnam have to rely on overcoming their direct rivals in the sub-indexes for a ticket to the final tournament as among one of the best five second-placed teams.

At the 2019 Asian Cup earlier this year, the Vietnam national senior team under the guidance of coach Park also had to rely on the sub-scores at the last round to ensure a ticket for one out of four of the best third-placed teams to qualify for the knock-out stage. At that time, the Vietnam team officially progressed as they had less than two yellow cards compared to Lebanon (five compared to seven cards), while having the same score (three points) and goal difference (-1), along with four goals like the West Asian side.

To self-determine the ticket to progress, Quang Hai (C) and his teammates must defeat Thailand U23s in their final qualifier match on Tuesday night. (Photo: Vietnam Football Federation)

Miracles and luck don't come many times. Thailand U23s have an advantage as they have already qualified for the finals and also proved their strength through the past two emphatic victories. However, Vietnam are playing at home under the support of tens of thousands of their home fans. Hopefully, “magic” Park will find a way to help Vietnam U23s overcome the final hurdle, thereby self-claiming their own “destiny”.

The clash between Vietnam U23s and Thailand U23s at the final round of the 2020 AFC U23 Championship Qualifiers will take place at the Hanoi’s My Dinh national stadium at 8 pm on March 26.

TRUNG HUNG