|Nguyễn Văn Tùng (9), celebrates after opening the scoring. — VNA/VNS Photo Minh Quyết|
PHNOM PENH — Việt Nam Under-22s began their defence of the SEA Games title with a 2-0 win against Laos on Sunday.
Goals from Nguyễn Văn Tùng and Nguyễn Quốc Việt were enough to claim the team's three points in Group B, but not enough to silence the pundits' moans.
Việt Nam's new national team head coach, Philippe Troussier, is also in charge of the Under-22s for this SEA Games. As this edition of the SEA Games does not allow overage players, Troussier called up many players from the Việt Nam Under-20s setup, who had a great performance in the 2023 AFC U20 Asian Cup back in March.
Some players who were in the victorious Việt Nam Under-23s setup that claimed the gold medal in 2022, were also retained, such as Phan Tuấn Tài and Nguyễn Văn Tùng.
The men in red, who were heavy favourites, got off to a great start in the second minute.
Nguyễn Thanh Nhàn's wonderful cross from the right wing was met by Văn Tùng on the edge of the box. Despite the far distance, his header crashed in via the underside of the crossbar.
The meeting between Việt Nam and Laos usually sees the Golden Star Warriors come out with a high scoring victory, and the Laotians slowly giving up control of the game after an early goal.
This time however, history did not repeat itself. Laos slowly found their rhythm, courtesy of their expat players.
The most dangerous chances still went Việt Nam's way. In the 16th minute, from a 27-metre long free kick, Lê Văn Đô, whose name oddly rhymes with Ronaldo, fired a shot that forced Laos' keeper Thilavong to make a flying save.
It is evident that Troussier's men, especially in midfield, did not have a great game. Rough plays from Laos forced the men in red to misplace passes and lose possession.
One such misplay placed Khounthoumphone through inside Việt Nam's box. The striker fired a powerful shot, but Quan Văn Chuẩn was able to clutch it to safety.
Việt Nam had chances of their own from Thanh Nhàn and Văn Đô late in the first half, but coordination and luck were not on their side and the first half ended with a narrow 1-0 lead.
The struggles continued for Việt Nam in the second half, as Laos stayed strong in defence, and even got dangerous from counters.
In the 70th minute, Huỳnh Công Đến's misplaced pass led to a Laos counter, which put Roman Angot free. The Laotian striker, who currently plays in France, was narrowly offside.
Laos went even closer to an equaliser in the 73rd minute, when Xaypanya got past the Việt Nam defence and was through on goal, but Văn Chuẩn again saved his teammates' bluffs.
Michael Weiss' men pushed on for the equaliser, however, Việt Nam doubled their lead in the second minute of added time. Substitutes Khuất Văn Khang and Nguyễn Quốc Việt combined to secure Việt Nam's three points, with a pinpoint cross and finish.
With this result, Việt Nam are currently in second place in Group B, behind rivals Thailand who won 3-1 against Singapore earlier.
Elsewhere in Group A, hosts Cambodia hammered Timor Leste 4-0 in their opening match, while another favourite, Indonesia, confidently won 3-0 against the Philippines.
Việt Nam will play their second match of the group stage against Singapore on Wednesday. — VNS