AFF Suzuki Cup 2020

Vietnam vs Thailand: Solid defence a fulcrum for Golden Star Warriors

Thursday, 2021-12-23 12:33:29
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Reigning champions Vietnam are the only team to have kept a clean sheet throughout the group stage of the AFF Suzuki Cup 2020.
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NDO – Vietnam and Thailand will clash in an epic AFF Cup semi-final showdown at Singapore’s National Stadium on Thursday, during which the Golden Star Warriors will surely give their best to defeat their arch-rivals and affirm their power as “king” of Southeast Asian football.

Tonight’s meeting against the Thais will be the opportunity for Vietnam to leave behind shortcomings in the group stage and come back to their true self under the dynasty of coach Park Hang-seo – employing a counterattacking style based on solid defence – which has brought them countless glories at both the national team and U23 levels.

It is also the playing style that has helped Vietnam maintain an unbeaten run against Thailand in their last three encounters since 2019.

Despite problems remaining with the attacking line, Park’s troops still have a solid fulcrum in the back yard. The defending AFF Cup champions are the only team to have kept a clean sheet throughout the group stage.

During their four Group B matches, Vietnam deployed two goalkeepers, swept places between four centre-backs and made many substitutions on two wings. The great focus of Vietnam’s defensive line has been measured in different situations, from leisurely against Malaysia and deadlocked attacking against Indonesia to taking full control against Laos and Cambodia. Even when victory had already been guaranteed, Vietnamese defenders still did not allow the opponents to break through easily. Maintaining that state throughout 360 minutes has shown the Golden Star Warriors’ remarkable concentration.

Among the ten 10 participating teams, nine have failed to protect their net, excluding Vietnam. Both Indonesia and Singapore enter the semi-finals with “broken shields”, having conceded four and three goals, respectively, against different opponents. Thailand also conceded one goal when confronting the Philippines.

Park might not have required such absolute solidity from his players when it was just the group stage. It is the sense of self-discipline and the harsh experience in the recent World Cup Qualifiers that has forged the bravery of Vietnamese defenders. Keeping a clean sheet in the group stage was also what the Golden Star Warriors did in the AFF Cup 2018, when they were crowned the overall champions.

Interestingly enough, Vietnamese goalie Tran Nguyen Manh was forced to work for a save just nine times, ranking ninth among the deployed goalkeepers in the AFF Suzuki Cup 2020. This shows Nguyen Manh was almost under no pressure. The good work of his teammates helped to minimise the number of clear-cut threats in front of Vietnam’s goal area. This is a noticeable change in the team’s defensive deployment.

The Vietnamese team were previously proud as their defenders could prevent the opponents from scoring, but the current defensive line give the opponents even fewer opportunities to do so.

World Cup lesson for AFF Cup ambitions

Under coach Park Hang-seo, Vietnam have won one and drawn two matches against Thailand.

The progress in defence possibly comes as a result of the bloody lessons that the Golden Star Warriors have learned from their recent World Cup qualifying mission. That is also the rising trend of world football. Confronting Japan or Saudi Arabia, Park’s side could not break through those teams’ solid defence, thus creating few opportunities. The Southeast Asian representatives had to “pay high fees” for these experiences, and now it is time to taste the first sweet fruits.

During three of their four group-stage matches, Vietnam took good control of the ball against many opponents. Most recently, Cambodia held the ball longer but were inferior in terms of shots compared to the Golden Star Warriors (8:22).

Those positive statistics will act as a solid fulcrum for Park Hang-seo and his side to confidently head into tonight’s semi-final against Thailand and affirm their position as “king of football in Southeast Asia”.

Under the Korean coach, Vietnam have now gone 19 official matches unbeaten against the Southeast Asian teams, including one win and two draws in their last three meetings with Thailand.

The four-game winning streak in the group stage has proved the Thais’ position as a football powerhouse in the region. Alexandre Polking’s side have already been and will continue to be steadfast with their dominant attacking style since the beginning of the tournament. That provides challenge but also opportunity for Park Hang-seo when facing an opponent that he clearly knows how they will play.

Together with a much-improved defensive shield and a strong attacking line, an unbeaten head-to-head record with the Thais under Park’s dynasty will give a strong boost to the Vietnamese team’s confidence towards outplaying the regional arch-rivals tonight.

The first leg of the AFF Cup 2020 semi-final between Vietnam and Thailand is set to take place at Singapore National Stadium at 7.30pm on December 23, three days before the two teams clash in the return leg.

With Singapore being the only host country of the tournament, the away-goal rule will not be applied to both the semi-finals and the final.