Vietnam is likely to face an aerial barrage from Uzbekistan on Saturday, so can the defense hold out?
This Saturday afternoon will be like no other in Vietnam.
The national football team will be competing in the final of the Asian Football Confederation Under-23 (AFC U23) Championship, marking the first time ever a team from Southeast Asia has made it so far.
Vietnamese fans started dreaming the unthinkable when the team made it to the semifinals, and many assumed it would be South Korea they’d be facing in the biggest game in the team’s history. Yes, it had to be South Korea, the runner up of the AFC U23 last year.
But just a few hours after Vietnam secured a ticket to the final with a dramatic win over Qatar on Tuesday, it was Uzbekistan’s turn to surprise fans.
It wasn’t until that moment that Vietnamese fans, who had been celebrating their team’s remarkable cup run that led them becoming the first in Southeast Asia along with Malaysia to reach the quarterfinals, started looking at what Uzbekistan has achieved so far in this tournament.
Uzbekistan knocked out 2017 champion Japan with a 4-0 win in the quarterfinals before beating South Korea 4-1 after extra time to reach the final.
Needless to say, Japan and South Korea have always been at the top of Asian football.
Looking back at the road to the final, FoxAsia said: “Vietnam have had their moments of brilliance, their progress this far has been largely down to disciplined and determined displays. On the other hand, Uzbekistan has been the personification of verve and panache in their run to the final, and has arguably been the most entertaining side in the tournament.”
Experts say that Vietnam’s success has been down to good teamwork, skillful control and defence, and last but not least, a fierce desire to win.
Vietnam has been playing a defensive 5-4-1 formation that relies heavily on the back five and the players’ ability to counter-attack.
Uzbekistan has lined up in a more attacking formation to use the players’ speed, strength and technique.
After his team’s semifinal victory over South Korea, coach Ravshan Khaydarov said: “My players did their maximum, it was their best performance of this tournament. We were strong tactically and physically.”
Playing a 4-2-3-1 formation, the team has a lone striker, three attacking midfielders, and two defensive midfielders. The wingers are both fast and like to cut inside, while the attacking central midfielder has good vision and can play balls to feet or outside to the wingers.
During five games at the tournament, Uzbekistan has scored 10 goals and conceded just two, while Vietnam has an even goal difference from games that played within 90 minutes.
Vietnam and Uzbekistan have not met in this tournament, but they are no strangers.
The two teams played each other just over a month ago in the quarterfinals of the M-150 International Friendly Football Tournament 2017 in Thailand, where Uzbekistan convincingly won 2-1.
Both fans and experts agree that Vietnam did not show up for that game, and the teamwork and defending was way below what the team has shown so far at the AFC U23 2018. However, it should be noted that Uzbekistan did not have to play at its best to beat Vietnam in Thailand.
Uzbekistan poses a strong aerial threat to Vietnam thanks to its players’ physical advantages, and aside from that, the weather seems to be against Vietnam as it’s currently snowing in Changzhou and temperatures are forecast to be freezing on Saturday, which is more likely to suit Uzbekistan, where temperatures in December average -8 degrees Celsius, rather than tropical Vietnam.
Most VnExpress International and VnExpress readers think Vietnam needs to be cautious and well-prepared for Uzbekistan, especially having seen the fate of Japan and South Korea, but they still believe that Vietnam can win.
Most betting sites and forums have Vietnam as the underdog, and bookies are offering one goal on Uzbekistan.
“If Vietnam is to indeed go all the way and claim a stunning victory, it is only fitting that they will have to beat the tournament’s best side on Saturday in the competition in order to do so,” FoxAsia summed up.
But the fighting spirit that has helped Vietnam get this far is now stronger than ever, said Vu Van Thanh, the team’s winning penalty taker at the semifinal on Tuesday. “The opponent is strong but we are not afraid. There’s nothing to be afraid of now because we’re already in the final. There’s only one road ahead: fighting at our best!”
Regardless of the outcome on Saturday, the players and coach Park Hang-seo are already heroes in Vietnam, and parties are being organized to welcome them home on Sunday. All that remains to be seen now is if they’re wearing gold or silver medals.
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