FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 – AFC Qualifiers – Second Round – Group G

World Cup qualifiers: A test to affirm position of Vietnamese football

Thursday, 2019-09-05 10:18:04
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FILE PHOTO - 2019 King’s Cup - Vietnam vs Thailand - Chang Arena, Buriram, Thailand - June 5, 2019 Vietnamese striker Nguyen Anh Duc (no. 11) celebrates scoring a last-gasp winner for Vietnam as the Golden Dragons beat the War Elephants 1-0.
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NDO – Vietnam will officially kick-start their campaign to conquer the second round of the Asian qualifiers for the 2022 FIFA World Cup tonight (5-9) with the first leg of the Group G opener against Thailand at Thammasat Stadium in Bangkok.

* [Infographic] Vietnam’s Group G fixtures in round two of World Cup 2022 AFC qualifiers

* Vietnam meet Thailand, UAE in World Cup 2022 qualifying

* Vietnam have nothing to fear against Thailand: coach Park

With Vietnam and Thailand being considered the strongest teams in Southeast Asia at the moment, the result of their Thursday meeting will decide the face of Group G as assessed by exerts, while initiating a “test” for Vietnamese football in the continental playground.

Round two of the AFC qualifiers features 40 teams, in eight groups of five. The Golden Dragons belong in Group G, together with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and three Southeast Asian representatives, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. The matches in the group will be held on home-and-away basis with each team playing eight games in total. The eight group winners and four best runners-up will qualify for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup, to be held in China, as well as the third and final round of the 2022 World Cup Qualifiers. Given the aforementioned format and the significance of the second qualifying round, each group game should be considered by Park Hang-seo’s side as a real final if they want to advance further.

After the resounding victories in the AFF Cup arena and the continental youth playgrounds over the recent past, the Vietnamese team are now full of confidence to continue conquering challenges and rising to the Asian and world levels. In preparation for the campaign, head coach Park convened two training camps in order to select the best and most suitable players for positions on the field. Prioritising the formation of a strong defensive system to ensure solidity in the back line and deploy attacks, the Republic of Korea (RoK) tactician has summoned nine defenders to the national squad, mostly the popular names with stable form at present. Que Ngoc Hai remains entrusted to be in charge of the defensive line, together with the support of Bui Tien Dung and Do Duy Manh, while Huu Tuan and Thanh Chung are eligible substitutions in case of necessity. The positions of left back and right back are usually undertaken by Van Hau and Trong Hoang, but both have just recovered from injuries. So, it is likely their positions will be replaced by Van Kien and Van Thanh. These players play a pivotal role in their clubs and can bring the necessary mutations for the Vietnamese team's playing style.

Along with the defenders, Vietnam’s attacking forces remain a constant threat to other Group G opponents with the convergence of two experienced strikers, including Nguyen Anh Duc, who scores the decisive goals for the team, and Nguyen Cong Phuong, who is capable of producing breakthroughs in necessary moments. In addition, some other forwards who have already undergone numerous challenges, such as Van Toan and Tien Linh, all possess speed, high ball skills and acumen in utilising and converting opportunities into gaols. It can be said that this is the best attacking generation of Vietnamese football thus far, who can not only operate independently but also coordinate smoothly and flexibly in approaching the opposite goal. What’s worrisome for Park is the midfield lineup, because Vietnam’s opponents will all use midfielders with good physical strength seeking to take control of the midfield. Duo Xuan Truong and Tuan Anh may be proficient in providing balls for the attacking lineup but are not really good at competing for the ball during fierce matches. In such a case, Park will have to calculate the addition of physically strong midfielders, such as Duc Huy, Hung Dung and Huy Hung, to the midfield, in combination with the skillfulness of Quang Hai.

Joining Vientam in Group G are the three teams from the same region who are equally eager for victories to affirm themselves, and a continental-level team, UAE. According to experts, the opening match between Vietnam and Thailand will decide the face of Group G, because either side winning the game will have the upper hand, in terms of psychology, before confronting the remaining opponents. A recent survey showed that the majority of Thai fans have rated Vietnam as their most formidable opponents, rather than the other group members. Unlike the previous meetings, Thailand’s coaching staff and players showed caution against Vietnam ahead of tonight’s encounter. Japanese coach Akira Nishino even asked the players to limit contact with the media to maintain the highest concentration for the upcoming clash against Vietnam. The Thai team have also made thorough preparations with the return of many pillars, especially in the midfield, including their star midfielder Chanathip Songkrasin. Using only one striker in the highest position, Thailand will play with five midfielders to control the midfield, seeking to produce an overwhelming attacking posture against their Vientamese opponents. It promises to be a big challenge for the Vietnamese team as Vietnam coach Park Hang-seo does not have many “cards” to effectively deal with such danger.

Malaysia are named as the second formidable opponents of Vietnam in Group G. The Malaysian squad have changed significantly over recent times with the summoning of many naturalised players. Regarding the latest camp, coach Tan Cheng Hoe called up four overseas-born players to the national team, including three defenders of Malaysian descent and Mohamadou Sumareh, a naturalised forward of Gambian origin. Fully understanding Vietnam’s strength and thoroughly learning about Park’s side, the “Malayan Tigers” are aspiring to avenge their 0-1 defeat against the Golden Dragons in the second leg of the 2018 AFF Cup final at Hanoi’s My Dinh Stadium. Meanwhile, Indonesia have been completely different from their previous encounter with Vietnam. In an effort to reach the continental and world levels, Indonesia have become the team to use the most naturalised players, with seven coming from African countries, Brazil and the Netherlands. This has helped them to quickly overcome physical weaknesses and produce superior power compared to other regional teams in terms of speed and ball-competing ability.

However, it is the UAE who are named the most noticeable opponents of Vietnam in the group stage. The West Asian team are considered the odds-on favourites for a place in the third and last round of the 2022 World Cup AFC qualifiers. At the recent 2019 Asian Cup, the UAE made it through to the semifinals before losing to the defending champions Qatar. In the past, they also reached the finals of the 1990 World Cup. The UAE is currently ranked sixth in Asia and 67th in the world according to the FIFA Rankings, 30 places above Vietnam. In the previous four meetings between the two sides, the Golden Dragons missed out on a victory. Nonetheless, under the dynasty of coach Park Hang-seo, the Vietnamese teams often achieve good results. There are strong hopes that the Vietnamese squad will live up to fans’ expectations during the upcoming campaign.

Considered as a small version of the “AFF Cup” with the presence of four Southeast Asian teams, excluding the UEA, Group G promises to see extremely fierce competition. Therefore, it will be difficult to have wide-margin wins, and the chance for the second-placed team to progress into the third qualifying round is very small. It can be said that the upcoming journey in Thailand will be a really big test for Park’s Vietnamese side to show off their ability and affirm the position of Vietnamese football in the region and in the continent.