Nguyễn Tiến Linh is seen in the football match between United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Việt Nam in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U23 Championship on Friday. VNA/VNS Photo Hoàng Linh
HÀ NỘI - Việt Nam kicked off their Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U23 Championship campaign with a goalless draw against the United Arab Emirates (UAE) at Buriram Stadium in Thailand on Friday.
Việt Nam's South Korean coach Park Hang-seo was able to name Nguyễn Quang Hải among the starters as the playmaker had recovered from an injury suffered in the Southeast Asian Games late last year, while the UAE had to do without star striker Mohammed Juma due to injury.
The first half was a cagey affair, befitting of an opening match of such a vitally important tournament, as a top-three finish will be enough for a spot at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
The first real chance for Việt Nam came in the 29th minute, as a corner played in by Hải flashed across the face of goal, but neither striker Hà Đức Chinh nor defender Huỳnh Tấn Sinh could get on the end of the ball to steer home.
A minute later Hải was teed up on the edge of the box on his favoured left foot, but the midfielder fluffed his lines and blazed the shot over the bar.
The UAE came closest to opening the scoring in the first half after a mazy run and cutback by Ali Saleh, but Saaed Suwaidan missed his kick and Vietnamese goalkeeper Bùi Tiến Dũng gratefully pounced on the ball in the 40th minute.
The first half ended shortly afterward, with neither side having stamped their authority on the encounter.
The second half opened with controversy, as the much maligned video assistant referee (VAR) was called into action.
In the 48th minute, the silky Saleh skipped through the Vietnamese defence and was hacked down by Sinh seemingly in the box. A penalty was awarded but after the VAR review, the decision was changed to a free-kick, letting Việt Nam off the hook.
The resulting dead ball was taken by Saleh himself, who forced a relatively routine save from goalie Dũng.
Việt Nam created a few half-chances in the early part of the second period, but were always unable to apply the finishing touch. At the other end, Saleh's runs continued to cause problems for the Vietnamese defence.
Into the closing stages Việt Nam came close to snatching all three points, first through Nguyễn Tiến Linh, whose 86th-minute shot from inside the box was straight at goalkeeper Mohamed Al Shamsi.
The best opportunity came three minutes later from a Hải corner that was flicked on by a UAE defender into the path of Bùi Hoàng Việt Anh, but the defender couldn't take advantage of the free header and put the ball wide of the post.
The final whistle sounded shortly afterward with honours even, though both sides will feel they could have come away with all three points.
Việt Nam's next match is against Jordan on Monday, while the UAE take on North Korea the same day. VNS