Việt Nam make history by reaching third round of World Cup qualifiers

Update: June, 16/2021 - 06:04

Peter Cowan

HÀ NỘI — They say history is written by the victors, but last night the national team lost and still ended up writing their names in the history books.

Though they fell to a 3-2 defeat away to the UAE and lost top spot in Group G, Việt Nam advanced to the third round of World Cup qualification for the first time ever thanks to results elsewhere.

Shortly after the start of the second half and with Việt Nam 3-0 down, Australia sealed a 1-0 win over Jordan to ensure that no matter the score in Dubai, Việt Nam would advance as one of the five best group runners-up.

While they may have limped over the finish line, Việt Nam are fully deserving of their place in the next round thanks to some gritty performances throughout a marathon qualification campaign lengthened by the pandemic.

Nguyễn Tiến Linh on the ball against the UAE last night. — Photo
That being said, the defeat last night did illustrate the gulf in class between Việt Nam and the calibre of opponents they will take on for a place in the World Cup finals, but few of the millions who tuned in to cheer the team on will care about that today.

Việt Nam went into the game knowing a win or draw would send them through as group winners, while the UAE needed a win to be certain of qualification.

The night got off to an inauspicious start for the Vietnamese side, as VTV were unable to broadcast the first five minutes of play due to technical difficulties.

When live coverage began, it was immediately apparent just how dominant in possession the home side were, though Việt Nam’s passive approach to the game by parking men behind the ball didn’t help matters.

The UAE took the lead in the 31st minute after Đoàn Văn Hậu gave the ball away and some slick passing set up Ali Salmin to drive the ball past goalkeeper Bùi Tấn Trường.

The lead was doubled just eight minutes later from the penalty spot after Trường needlessly brought down Khalil Ibrahim. In-form striker Ali Mabkhout converted the penalty with ease.

The half ended 2-0 and with inspirational coach Park Hang-seo banned from the touchline for his part in an incident in the match against Malaysia, it was hard to envisage Việt Nam taking anything from the match.

Things went from bad to worse as Việt Nam conceded a third goal just five minutes into the second half with Trường again at fault. The Hà Nội FC goalkeeper parried a headed shot from Fabio Lima straight into the path of Mahmoud Khamis, who duly nodded home from close range.

Seconds after that goal though, the final whistle went in Kuwait to seal Australia’s victory, sending Việt Nam through and condemning most of the final 40 minutes to dead rubber status.

With no pressure on their shoulders, Việt Nam pulled two goals back in the dying minutes, first through Nguyễn Tiến Linh, who scored his third goal in three games after some great play from Trần Minh Vương and Nguyễn Quang Hải in the 84th minute.

Then in the second minute of stoppage time, Vương struck after some sloppy play by the UAE to briefly give the home side a scare, but the final whistle soon after spared their blushes, sending both sides safely through to the next round.

Now, just 10 matches against Asia’s elite stand between Việt Nam and the 2022 World Cup finals.

While booking a spot in Qatar is a daunting challenge, coach Park and his players have already proven more than capable of writing their own history, so what’s one more chapter? — VNS