|The Vietnamese national team in training ahead of their final two World Cup qualifiers. Photo thethaovanhoa.vn|
There are no moral victories in professional sport, but that doesn’t mean Việt Nam have nothing to play for in the World Cup qualifiers.
Park Hang-seo’s men wrap up their campaign with matches at home to Oman this Thursday and away to Japan next Tuesday, and while qualification for Qatar is beyond them, there are more than a meaningless six points on offer.
Việt Nam have already made history as the first Southeast Asian team to secure a win in the third round of qualifying thanks to their 3-1 victory over China on February 1 and they can extend that record with another at home to Oman.
The visitors are also out of contention for a spot in Qatar and likely won’t relish a trip to muggy Hà Nội in the thick of mouldy March, so it would be great to see the Vietnamese team take the game to them as they did against China, instead of the conservative approach employed in the majority of the campaign.
Racking up two wins at this top level of competition would cement Việt Nam as the region’s top team, regardless of Thailand’s AFF Cup triumph.
Secondly, there’s still a chance Việt Nam can avoid the wooden spoon and condemn neighbours China to bottom spot on Group B.
A win on Thursday night coupled with a Chinese defeat at home to group leaders Saudi Arabia (a near certainty) would see Việt Nam move a point above China ahead of the final round of fixtures.
A second from bottom finish isn’t what anyone wanted at the start of this campaign, but it would sure beat coming dead last, so that alone should be more than enough motivation for captain Đỗ Hùng Dũng et al.Finally, and admittedly this one is the longest of long shots, but Việt Nam have a chance to pull off a historic upset of Japan.
The Asian football giants have struggled in the third round of qualifying by their lofty standards and face a crunch match with Australia on Thursday as they attempt to hold onto the second automatic qualifying spot.
If they lose in Sydney, next Thursday’s clash with Việt Nam takes on a great deal more significance and Việt Nam could end the Samurai Blue’s hopes of automatic qualification and send them into the inter-continental playoffs.
A victory in Japan for coach Park’s side would be unprecedented, as Việt Nam have never defeated Japan even at a neutral venue, never mind away from home.
Last November when Japan visited Mỹ Đình Stadium in Hà Nội, they looked far from world beaters and laboured to a 1-0 win, so a reverse of that score isn’t beyond the realms of possibility.
Is it likely? No, but if following this team over the past few years has taught us anything, it’s history is there to be made and records are made to be broken. VNS