|Việt Nam players in their first training session after arriving in Japan. — Photo VFF|
HÀ NỘI — The Việt Nam national team will be without their top scorer, one of their core centre backs and their trusty translator before their last match in the World Cup qualifiers against Japan in Saitama on Tuesday.
Centre forward Nguyễn Tiến Linh, who scored eight goals in this qualifying campaign, surprisingly on par with Robert Lewandowski and two goals ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo, is out with a nasty muscle tear.
In defence, Việt Nam's in-form defender Nguyễn Thành Chung was booked for two successive matches and is suspended.
Rising star Nguyễn Hoàng Đức is still out because of COVID, and the Vietnamese midfield now has only four players for the Japan trip: Hùng Dũng, Quang Hải, Tuấn Anh and Hoàng Anh.
And if that's not worse enough, the team translator, Lê Huy Khoa also tested positive for COVID-19, and 15 players who came into close contact with him are currently separated from the team for monitoring.
Outside of the injuries and absences, Coach Park must deal with another problem involving starters who are out of form. Vũ Văn Thanh, a former hero who scored the winning penalty in Changzhou that took Việt Nam to the 2018 AFC U23 Championship final, is now facing critics from both the public and experts after his poor performance on Thursday against Oman.
The Hoàng Anh Gia Lai right-back lost possession a staggering twenty times in that match, according to statistics website SofaScore. Pundits have warned Thanh needs to buck up his ideas if he still wants a place in the line-up in the future.
But there are still positive signs that Park and the fans could look forward to on March 29. Keeper Đặng Văn Lâm has fully recovered from injury and is currently in Japan, ready to join the team. Lâm is one of Việt Nam's best goalkeepers, with a great physique that would help strengthen Việt Nam's defence, especially in set pieces.
Young players such as Đức Chiến, Thanh Bình, Văn Nam and Hoàng Anh, all eligible for the SEA Games in May, might be given a chance in Việt Nam's last game in the World Cup Qualifiers. An opportunity to compete against continental stars such as Takumi Minamino, Takefusa Kubo and Maya Yoshida does not come often, and with a chance like that comes precious experience.
"Many people said that I don't give chances to young players," said coach Park in the post-match press conference on Thursday.
"However, I think young players should prove themselves in training and preparation first, that way I can give them the opportunities they need easier."
Their opponent, Japan, have already qualified for the World Cup after a 2-0 win against Australia on Thursday in Melbourne. Japan manager Hajime Moriyasu can choose to rest some key players in the match against Việt Nam, and this probably can be the Golden Star Warriors' chance to surprise.
The Blue Samurai seemed to be struggling against low-block defensive teams, and their strikers are not in good form either. Japan could have exited Australia with only one point, had it not been for Kaoru Mitoma's double strike in the last two minutes of the game.
The Việt Nam team is not only good in defence, but they are more flexible than ever. The first ten minutes of the second half against Oman is solid proof that the men in red can attack and pressure the opponent, and only lack the finishing touches needed for a goal.
With all of those factors, it is understandable why coach Park and the team still try to emit a positive message. Việt Nam will go into Saitama Stadium facing the number one team in Asia, with a belief that they could make a difference.
And if every single fan has faith in them, "The Việt Nam team will have a very promising future", said Oman's manager Branko Ivankovic on Thursday. — VNS