|Nguyễn Công Phượng on the ball against Cambodia on Sunday night. Photo VietnamPlus
Well, they’re going to have to do it the hard way.
It’s not often that a match that ends in a 4-0 victory feels disappointing, but Việt Nam’s dismantling of Cambodia on Sunday evening wasn’t enough to put them on top of Group B of the AFF Cup.
That means instead of facing unfancied Singapore in the semi-finals, they will take on Thailand and their constellation of attacking stars.
Hindsight is 20-20, but even a blind man could see that only beating Laos 2-0 is what left Việt Nam in this position, and in retrospect, the 0-0 draw with Indonesia is less of a disappointing result than it felt on the night.
Every other team in the group defeated the minnows by at least three goals, and ultimately, with the two teams level on goal difference, goals scored is what put Indonesia through as group winners.
Looking back on Việt Nam’s opening match of the tournament, it’s tempting but reductive to lay the blame at the feet of Vũ Văn Thanh, who missed a penalty that would have put the gloss on the win.
I was prepared to lambast coach Park Hang-seo’s conservative approach but on reflection that’s probably not fair either.
Against Laos, the Korean brought attack-minded players like Nguyễn Quang Hải, Nguyễn Văn Toàn and Trần Minh Vượng off the bench in search of a third goal but to no avail.
Sometimes, especially in tournament football, a small slice of luck can make all the difference, and while Indonesia are fully deserving of advancing as group winners after a pulsating 4-1 comeback win over Malaysia, they can feel themselves slightly fortunate that the Laos defence held firm two weeks ago.
Turning the page to the semi-final, we are set for a fascinating matchup.
By all accounts Thailand have been playing some good football at this tournament under former HCM City FC coach Mano Polking.
Things didn’t quite work out for Polking in domestic Vietnamese football, but his side consistently won plaudits for attempting to play aesthetically pleasing football, which is far from the norm in the V.League 1.
Polking and his coaching staff will come equipped with an intimate knowledge of the Vietnamese players’ strengths and weaknesses, while they also have attacking stars like Teerasil Dangda and Chanathip Songkrasin to call upon.
All these factors play in the Thai side’s favour, and yet I can’t help but feel that tactically this matchup suits coach Park.
The Korean is nothing if not pragmatic and is well-used to setting up a side to soak up pressure and play without the ball, whereas Polking teams normally look to dominate possession.
I can envisage Việt Nam setting up similarly to how they have been in the third round of World Cup qualifiers and looking to hit Thailand on the break, except they should be able to conjure significantly more chances than against the likes of Japan and Saudi Arabia.
With the decisive second leg set to the played on Boxing Day this Sunday, we could be set to enjoy a real Christmas cracker. VNS