The Vietnam men’s national football team drew first blood against the Philippines, 2-1, in the home-and-away semifinals of the 2018 ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) semifinals in Panaad Stadium, Bacolod City, Sunday.
As a result, the Azkals desperately need a “Miracle of Hanoi” for their away match on December 6.
Playing at a blitzkrieg pace, the Golden Dragons played like the underdogs, attacking the Azkals’ defense on breakaways relentlessly, leading to goals by veteran Nguyen Anh Duc and the youthful Phan Van Duc.
Vietnam scored the opener with a well-timed header by veteran Nguyen off a breakaway volley from Pham Duc Huy at the twelfth minute for his tenth international goal.
Nguyen’s header was reminiscent of current Azkals assistant coach Chris Greatwich’s opening goal in their historic 2010 AFF match, dubbed “Miracle in Hanoi,” when the then perennial doormat Filipino squad upset the then defending champions, 0-2. Notably, the 33-year-old Nguyen played in said match.
Unfazed, the Azkals tied the score at the first minute of injury time in the first half, when captain Phil Younghusband found the streaking Patrick Reichelt, who pierced a flying boot on the Vietnamese goal off the break.
Vietnam though pressed on at the start of the second half and at the 48th minute, Phan kept onside position before charging free past the slow Filipino backline, cleanly receiving 2010 veteran Nguyen Trong Hoang’s pass and beating keeper Michael Falkesgaard one on one.
“If we want to beat a team like this, we cannot concede goals like that. It was easy for them to penetrate our back line,” lamented Azkals head coach Sven-Goran Eriksson.
Vietnam’s head coach Park Hang-Seo reminded though that there is still a second leg and his squad “need to focus on the next match.”
“We prepared their attack patterns of using long balls and flank attacks so I ordered my players to just press on the box for us to score our second goal,” the Korean coach, who led Vietnam to a historic semifinal finish in the Asian Games, explained.
After Phan’s strike, the Azkals tried but failed to find their groove in playing more short passes and set plays as shots from Stephan Schrock and Younghusband were all saved by Vietnamese-Russian keeper Dang Van Lam.
Reichelt had a chance to tie the game past the 80th minute off a long pass from Schrock but his strike from point blank went way on the top of the goal.
Eriksson is still optimistic about the Azkals’ chances, citing that they just have to be quick on defense.
“We are not out in the Suzuki Cup yet. Absolutely not,” he promised.
With the loss, the Azkals must either need to win by two, reminiscent of the “Miracle in Hanoi,” or win by scoring more away goals. A 1-0 win will oust them from the tournament as Vietnam had scored more away goals.