Captain Quế Ngọc Hải is on the precipice of history. — Photo VFF
Win and they’re in, it’s that simple.
Okay, win or draw against the UAE tonight and Việt Nam make the third round of World Cup qualification for the first time in history as the winners of Group G, but that doesn’t have the same ring to it as “win and they’re in”.
After dispatching Indonesia 4-0 and grinding out a 2-1 win over Malaysia, coach Park Hang-seo’s men stand on the cusp of history and it would be a brave man to bet against them getting the result they need tonight in Dubai.
However, if I take my red-tinted and yellow-starred spectacles off for just a moment, it should be acknowledged that the UAE are favourites to take all three points.
They have momentum thanks to three wins on the trot, they have some superb players in flying form like Ali Mabkhout and they have home advantage.
I expect Park, who will watch from the stands due to his suspension, to set his team out to frustrate the UAE and perhaps nick a goal on the break, a formula that has worked well against stronger sides.
If the formula fails Việt Nam this time though, all hope isn’t lost, as a defeat will most likely still see them go through to the next round as one of the five best group runners-up.
My lack of maths skills means using an algorithm to determine Việt Nam’s chances of going through (99.2 per cent according to some) is out of the question, but I have had a look at Tuesday night’s fixtures across Asia to figure out just what would need to happen for Việt Nam not to qualify.
With 17 points already you might think there’s no way Việt Nam won’t be in the third round, but as North Korea dropped out of their final three matches, results against the bottom team of each group don’t count towards the runners-up rankings.
This means if Việt Nam were to be beaten tonight, they’d lose the six points they won against Indonesia and sit on 11 points in the runners-up table. This would place them second at the moment, and it would take an extraordinary string of results to knock them out of the all-important top five.
First, China would have to defeat Syria in a match also being played in the UAE on Tuesday to put them on 13 points.
Next, Saudi Arabia would have to lose at home to Uzbekistan, which would put Uzbekistan through as group winners and leave the Saudis on 13 points in the runners-up table.
Beneath these two sides would be Oman, who are virtually locked-in on 12 points unless they lose to minnows Bangladesh and Afghanistan beat India.
Rivals Iran and Iraq also play on Tuesday but in Bahrain, and a win for Iran would send them through as group winners and put Iraq level with Việt Nam on 11 points.
Finally, if Jordan pull off a huge upset against Australia in Kuwait they would also have 11 points.
This is where things get really complicated.
Goal difference would be needed to settle this three-way tie between Việt Nam, Iraq and Jordan, but goals scored and conceded against the bottom-placed team in each group wouldn’t count.
As it stands, Việt Nam are on plus three, Iraq plus four and Jordan plus five, though if the results play out as described so far, Jordan would improve their goal difference by winning and go through. That would leave the final slot between Iraq and Việt Nam.
If Iraq lose by two goals more than Việt Nam do, coach Park’s men would go through. If Iraq lose by just one goal more than Việt Nam do, the next tiebreaker is goals scored and Iraq currently have six to Việt Nam’s four. Any other pair of results would mean Việt Nam lose out.
Hopefully after reading all that it’s apparent just how badly things would have to go wrong for Việt Nam to miss out, but more importantly, hopefully they get a result tonight and we can celebrate the history-makers and chuck our calculators in the bin. — VNS