The Local Game: Time for some bravery from coach Park

Update: June, 22/2021 - 08:28


The national team scored two late goals against the UAE. Photo

Peter Cowan

The national team did their job, but you won’t see coach Park Hang-seo stood on an aircraft carrier in front of a ‘Mission Accomplished’ banner any time soon.

In case you’ve been living under a rock and missed it somehow, Việt Nam advanced to the third round of World Cup qualifying last week after a 3-2 defeat to the UAE.

Scraping through as one of the five best group runners-up doesn’t concern me, they were deserving of a spot in the next round on the balance of the campaign.

But unfortunately, making it to the third round was the easy part.

In their six-team group, Việt Nam will face the heavy hitters of Asian football and are guaranteed to be drawn with one of Japan or Iran and one of Australia or South Korea, as well as three other top sides.

Underdog status probably suits coach Park just fine and having made it this far it’s hard to argue against sticking with the tactics that have brought the team this far, but I’m going to give it a go anyway.

The match against the UAE showed the problems with Park’s conservative approach against top teams, but also how there could be a different path for Việt Nam.

By sitting deep and playing what effectively became a 5-4-1 formation with only fullbacks Đoàn Văn Hậu and Nguyễn Trọng Hoàng as true wide players, the UAE were allowed to dominate possession without having to worry about a Vietnamese counterattack.

The likes of Malaysia and Thailand struggled to break down Park’s packed defence, but teams with the calibre of player the UAE, South Korea and Japan possess will eventually find a way through and the UAE surged to a 3-0 lead without breaking a sweat.

In the second half though, Việt Nam roared back with two late goals to almost make a game of it. Now in fairness, the UAE may have eased off the gas a touch, but I still think there are lessons to be learned from both goals.

The first was slotted home by Nguyễn Tiến Linh after some superb intricate buildup play, with Hoàng, Nguyễn Quang Hải and Trần Minh Vương all involved. The lesson here? Việt Nam have some great technicians and it’s a waste to have them chasing shadows for 90 minutes instead of playing with the ball at their feet.

The second goal came from a UAE mistake after some good high pressing and then quick passing by Việt Nam. This reminds me of that age-old adage in football: they don’t like it up them. The best sides in Asia are used to having things their way against the minnows, why not press them and try and ruffle a few feathers?

Yes, pressing high and trying to play with the ball rather than staying compact is a risky approach and could have the likes of Ali Mabkhout, Son Heung-min and Takumi Minamino licking their lips, but what have Việt Nam got to lose?

Việt Nam’s historic run means they’re already playing with house money, so for me, it’s time to take a gamble and see how far bravery can carry them, rather than sticking with a conservative approach that will almost certainly result in a string of battling defeats.

Fortune favours the brave, so that’s what Park has to be. VNS