|Thailand's Theerathon Bunmathan (left) fights for the ball with Việt Nam's Hồ Tấn Tài during the second leg of the AFF Cup semi-final between Việt Nam and Thailand at the National Stadium in Singapore yesterday. AFP/VNA Photo
Anh Đức & Peter Cowan
HÀ NỘI — Việt Nam's AFF Cup defence ended with a whimper as they were held to a goalless draw by Thailand at the Kailang National Stadium in Singapore on Sunday, losing the semi-final 2-0 on aggregate.
Coach Park Hang-seo made five changes to his line-up compared to the first leg, with Nguyễn Công Phượng, Nguyễn Tuấn Anh, Vũ Văn Thanh and Nguyễn Văn Toàn dropped in favour of Nguyễn Tiến Linh, Hà Đức Chinh, Phan Văn Đức and Hồ Tấn Tài.
The line-up was similar to how Việt Nam played in the second half of the last game, with the exception of Bùi Tiến Dũng replacing the injured Đỗ Duy Mạnh.
Knowing they needed to redress a two-goal deficit, Việt Nam flew out of the blocks and put pressure on Chatchai Budprom's goal from the off.
Their first real chance came in the 3rd minute, when Nguyễn Quang Hải had a shot on goal but it was caught easily by Chatchai.
Twenty minutes later, Quang Hải slipped Tấn Tài through on goal, but the 24-year-old blasted his shot from a difficult position over the bar.
In the 27th minute, Tiến Linh was almost through on goal after a great ball over the top from Quang Hải, but Chatchai raced out of his goal to clear the danger, injuring himself in the process. He was replaced by Siwarak Tedsungnoen.
Việt Nam's best chance of the half came in injury time when Nguyễn Phong Hồng Duy cut the ball back to Quang Hải, but he fired over the bar from just inside the box.
Thailand almost made coach Park's men pay for their profligacy in the final seconds of the first half, but goalkeeper Trần Nguyên Mạnh was equal to Theerathon Bunmathan's powerful shot.
Both coaches made changes in the second half, and Thailand used theirs to effectively kill off the match.
Thailand's Mano Polking brought on tall centre-back Elias Dolah and switched to a defensive 3-5-2, while coach Park went all in, bringing on Văn Toàn and Công Phượng for Hồng Duy and Hà Đức Chinh, and switched Việt Nam to a back-four formation.
Thailand's changes neutralised the Vietnamese players, who seemed to run out of ideas and resorted to pumping the ball long at every opportunity, which the powerful Thai defenders were able to deal with easily.
The match finished 0-0, with Việt Nam bowing out of a competition they were favourites to win.
Thailand will face Indonesia in the final, while Việt Nam will turn their focus to their final four World Cup qualifiers in early 2022. — VNS