CRUNCH TIME: Last time out in September, the two sides played out a goalless draw in Thailand. — Photo the-afc.com
Việt Nam take on Thailand tonight in an all-important World Cup qualifier in Hà Nội, and it’s not just important because the two teams are bitter rivals.
If the Vietnamese secure all three points, they’ll take a commanding lead at the top of Group G in the second round of Asian qualification. Defeat for Thailand would make moving to the final round of the qualifiers an uphill task, and heap the pressure on coach Akira Nishino.
Let’s take a look at what the Golden Dragons have to do to make sure the 40,000 or so home supporters are celebrating tonight.
Anticipation for this match has been massive in both nations ever since the groups were drawn back in the summer, so the home fans should be in good voice and the atmosphere electric.
The home side will be able to feed off that atmosphere, as long as they give the fans something to cheer for. If Việt Nam can dominate the early exchanges and keep the crowd cheering, the Thai players will feel the pressure.
In the reverse fixture at the Thammasat Stadium in September, Việt Nam almost enjoyed a dream start as Nguyễn Văn Toàn went clean through on goal with less than a minute left. The forward fluffed his lines back then; putting a similar early chance away tonight would put Việt Nam well on their way to three points.
Keep Chanathip quiet
Chanathip Songkrasin is known as the ‘Thai Messi’ in Vietnamese media for a reason.
The five-foot, two-inch attacking midfielder plies his trade in Japan for Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo and was named in the 2018 J.League team of the season, becoming the first Southeast Asian footballer to do so.
He’s quick of mind and foot, creative and clearly the biggest threat in the Thailand team, and while he has yet to shine under new manager Akira Nishino, he can decide any game on his own.
Luckily for Việt Nam, the back three of Bùi Tiến Dũng, Quế Ngọc Hải and Đỗ Duy Mạnh have been rock-solid in the qualifiers so far. They’ll need to be alert tonight to keep Chanathip quiet.
Get Quang Hải on the ball
At the other end of the pitch, it’s crucial Việt Nam playmaker Nguyễn Quang Hải is given plenty of opportunities to shine.
Unlike his Thai counterpart Chanathip the 22-year-old Hà Nội FC star still plays in the domestic league, but make no mistake about it, he’s at least an equally gifted player.
While Hải’s talents are impossible to deny, it is true he has a tendency to drift in and out of matches for the national team. This isn’t entirely his fault, as Việt Nam often have a lot less of the ball than his club side do, leaving Hải limited to counterattacking opportunities.
However, against a team of roughly similar level in Thailand and playing at home, Park Hang-seo’s men should look to get Hải involved and on the ball early and often.
Control the flanks
Conventional football wisdom says to attack wide and defend tight, and some of the best players in this game make their money down the sides.
The two wing-backs in Park Hang-seo’s preferred 3-4-3 formation are tasked with providing attacking width and support for the back three, a tough task for any player. Fortunately, the South Korean coach is blessed with excellent players in SC Heerenveen man Đoàn Văn Hậu and Nguyễn Trọng Hoàng on the left and right respectively.
While Thailand tend to operate with a more traditional four at the back, their full-backs are also key men.
Left-back Theerathon Bunmathan missed Thailand’s 2-1 defeat to Malaysia last week through suspension, and it showed. The Japan-based defender offers Nishino’s team a lot going forward as an extra playmaker, and will be keen to make up for lost time tonight.
On the other flank, Tristan Do started Thailand’s last game against Malaysia after missing out on the famous victory over the UAE in October. The attack-minded player struggled in Kuala Lumpur, leaving Nishino with a selection quandry for tonight.
Supremacy down the flanks will go a long way to deciding this match, so Hậu and Hoàng will need to be on top form to provide an attacking option and keep the clamps on their opposite numbers. — VNS
Việt Nam News will provide live blog coverage of tonight’s fixture from 7.45pm on our website and via our Twitter feed.