2022 FIFA World Cup Asian Qualifiers

Vietnam vs Thailand: Fierce battle in the midfield

Wednesday, 2019-09-04 09:25:13
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The midfield is expected to witness a fierce clash between Vietnam and Thailand in the upcoming match. (Photo: Vietnam Football Federation)
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NDO – With both sides are focusing on building their midfield, the important clash between arch-rivals Vietnam and Thailand on Thursday, under the 2022 FIFA World Cup Asian Qualifiers second round, is likely to be decided in the centre of the field.

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After more than a month at the helm of the Thai national squad, new Japanese coach Akira Nishino is about to have his first match with the new team, which is a confrontation with Vietnam under coach Park Hang-seo in their Group G opener at Thammasat Stadium tomorrow evening. It must be said that the Thai team under Nishino until now remains a mystery.

As the hosts for the upcoming match, the “War Elephants” are determined to beat the “Golden Stars” to make a boost for their campaign at World Cup qualifiers, which also features familiar foes Indonesia and Malaysia and favourites UAE in Group G. But how the Thai play under the guidance of the 1955-born Japanese coach remains a question mark. Since Nishino summoned Thailand's 33-member preliminary list to prepare for the second round of the 2022 World Cup Asian qualifiers, the entire Thai team have had their training camp behind closed doors. Even the country's press has not been able to exploit much information on the Japanese coach's play style. But looking at the way Nishino built his line-ups when he was still the head coach of Japanese squad at the FIFA World Cup 2018, the 64-year-old strategist’s style is clearer. Nishino favours the 4-2-3-1 line-up with only one striker. This tactic seemed to be a success at last year’s World Cup, when Yuya Osako alone led the attacking line to bring Japan to the knockout stage, before a narrow 3-2 loss to Belgium in the Round of 16.

Moving to Thailand, it is no expectation for Nishino to drop what has brought him success as the former Japan’s coach. The selection of Thai players in the 33-man preliminary list is a proof of this. In his 4-2-3-1 line-up, Nishino usually uses midfielders to create pressure on their opponents. Therefore, it is not strange that the Japanese coach only called up two strikers while summoning up to 16 midfielders on the preliminary list. When it came to the official list of 23 final names, Nishino continued to eliminate another a striker, keeping only Supachai Jaided as a lone striker for Thai team coming to the upcoming qualifiers, while the midfield is still overwhelmed with 11 midfielders. It is clear that his strategy is focusing on building the middle for the "War Elephants". In the rehearsal on September 2, Nishino himself also spoke about his strange decision. When being asked about keeping only one striker, Supachai, on the official Thailand squad, the Japanese insisted that there are still many other excellent attackers in his hands.

Thailand’s tactics under new coach Akira Nishino are still a mystery. (Photo: Football Association of Thailand)

That is understandable because the midfield is also home to prominent Thai football names, such as Thitipan Puangchan who is playing in Japan, young star Supachok Sarachat, or rookie Ekanit Panya who has eight goals to his name in the Thai League. In particular, the midfield of Thailand also features star Chanathip Songkrasin, who plays impressively in Consadole Sapporo’s shirt in Japan. Despite his absence in the 1-0 loss of Thailand to Vietnam in the King's Cup 2019 last June, Chanathip's return in the upcoming match will be a significant push for the "War Elephants". With his talent that has been affirmed in Japan and for many years working closely with teammates in the national team, "Messi Jay" Chanathip has a great influence on Thailand's play. Even coach Nishino in his first days taking over the "War Elephants" has also confirmed that Chanathip and three other Thai players playing abroad will be the nucleus of his tactics.

Certainly, Vietnam will have to be cautious with the dangerous "detonator" Chanathip. Coach Park, as well as the Vietnamese players, have praised the skilful midfielder and blocking the 25-year-old midfielder seems to be a mandatory task for the Vietnamese team in the upcoming match. With a very strong midfield line, priority in controlling the possession and being well prepared under the hands of the new coach Nishino, coach Park and his players must have an appropriate approach to counter their opponents’ strengths.

The four Thai players who are playing overseas are considered the “nucleus” of coach Nishino’s tactics for the "War Elephants". (Photo: Football Association of Thailand)

A noticeable common point in both Nishino and Park is the important role of the midfield. As coach Nishino has 11 midfielders in his final 23-man list, Park also summons nine faces in the midfield, not to mention the two full-backs that can play as wingers in coach Park's favourite 3-5-2 line-up. The strength of Park is the unpredictable variation in the operation of its tactical scheme. Like Chanathip, star midfielder Quang Hai is an irreplaceable factor in the Vietnamese team's play, especially in the midfield. But excluding the Hanoi FC star, the remaining midfielders are not sure if they have their name on the starting XI. In each match with different opponents, Park often arranges a pair of central midfielders selected based on careful calculations of the opponent's strengths and weaknesses. It can be seen that with the opponents having a strong midfield, capable of controlling the game and organising attacks smoothly, the defence-oriented central midfielders like Hung Dung, Duc Huy or Huy Hung will be trusted.

Although the outcome of the match can be determined by many factors, looking at what Park and his colleague Nishino have been building, it can be confirmed that the midfield is likely the fierce front, where both sides will fight to determine the game’s results.

Coach Park Hang-seo’s side during their training camp in Thailand on September 2, 2019. (Photo: Vietnam Football Federation)

Today, the two teams will conduct a technical meeting and a pre-match press brief. In the afternoon of the same day, Vietnam will have their last training session at Thammasat Stadium. The team have welcomed defender Doan Van Hau back from his debut at the Dutch side SC Heenrenveen, while Sint-Truiden’s striker Cong Phuong also returned to the squad from Belgium. Coach Park now has his full squad to go into the important match against the hosts which will kick-off at 19:00 tomorrow.