|Theerathon Bunmathan with a celebration reminiscence of Cristiano Ronaldo after his goal that won Thailand's match. — AFP/VNA Photo|
BANGKOK — Việt Nam lost the 2022 AFF Cup Final after a 1-0 loss (2-3 on aggregate) against Thailand on Monday.
Thailand's winning goal, courtesy of Theerathon Bunmathan, was an inevitable outcome after enormous pressure from the Thai side.
Việt Nam could not provide an excellent send-off for Park Hang-Seo, who ended his five-year tenure after the match.
Park made five changes to his starting line-up after the first leg in Mỹ Đình, with Nguyễn Thanh Bình, Bùi Hoàng Việt Anh, Phan Văn Đức, Nguyễn Tuấn Anh and Vũ Văn Thanh replacing Bùi Tiến Dũng, Đỗ Duy Mạnh, Nguyễn Quang Hải, Phạm Tuấn Hải and Hồ Tấn Tài.
Other than Tiến Dũng, who was injured in training, the remaining players were replaced due to a disappointing performance in the 2-2 draw in the first leg.
But the heavy rotation by Park could not hide the fact that Thailand's advantages were far greater than Việt Nam's. With two away goals in Hà Nội and 25,000 home fans screaming in Thammasat Stadium, the Thai side played comfortably, knowing a 0-0 or a 1-1 draw would be enough for the cup.
Albeit playing slow, Thailand kept possession and waited for their chance to attack. Việt Nam had no dangerous chances during the first part of the half, instead making a lot of unforced errors in passing.
Theerathon Bunmathan, who many pundits saw as the difference between the two teams in the first leg where he provided two crucial assists, was again the centre of attention.
After some dangerous corners and free-kick attempts, Theerathon proved his class as one of Asia's top players in the 24th minute. In a rare opportunity, he got near Việt Nam's six-yard box, Theerathon found acres of space and fired a powerful shot past Đặng Văn Lâm and into the net, opening the scoring for Thailand.
Việt Nam needed at least two goals to have a chance but could not find harmony in their attack. Replacements Tuấn Anh and Việt Anh made stray passes and lost possession multiple times, putting the defence on high alert and cutting Việt Nam's counters short.
In the 36th minute, Park had seen enough of Tuấn Anh's dismal performance and replaced him with Nguyễn Quang Hải. He then made two more changes during halftime, subbing off Việt Anh and Văn Đức.
The first few minutes of the second half went the way of Việt Nam, and the changes seemed to have worked. The Vietnamese got into Thailand's box far more than they did in the first half and even shouted for a penalty twice, only to have their appeals waived away by the referee.
However, the pressure in Thammasat Stadium got to them again, as misplaced passes and lapses in concentration led to Thailand slowly reclaiming control. A desperate Park subbed Nguyễn Văn Toàn on and even played Nguyễn Thành Chung as a centre-forward in the final minutes, but the Golden Star Warriors still could not a goal.
With a comfortable lead on aggregate, Thailand slowed down even further and protected the 1-0 win to claim the AFF Cup for the seventh time. FIFA President Gianni Infantino presented the trophy to Theerathon Bunmathan, who also won the Most Valuable Player of the Tournament award.
Việt Nam's Nguyễn Tiến Linh, with six goals to his name, shared the Top Scorer award with Thailand's Teerasil Dangda.
During his five years as the national team coach, Park Hang-seo won one AFF Cup in 2018 and took Việt Nam to the third qualifying round of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. He also took the U23s team to the final of the 2018 AFC U23 Championship and won two SEA Games medals in 2019 and 2022. Although his time at Việt Nam ended sadly, the inspiration and success he brought to Việt Nam's football are tremendously appreciated.
Park's replacement remains unknown at the moment, but his achievement will put a heavy burden on the next coach. — VNS