Sunday, December 28, 2008


Vietnam eye first title

Vietnam stand just 90 minutes away from winning their first ever AFF Cup and in the process breaking Singapore and Thailand's hold on the trophy they have each won three times.

For a tournemant that pretty much followed the form book in the group stages everything is now up in the air and for this we have the Vietnamese to thank.

They have been the perennial slow starters as they struggled in the group stages to overcome an indifferent Malaysia and indeed only qualified thanks to some glaring goalkeeping errors while their own keeper Duong looking decidely dodgy in Phuket.

But everything changed in their semi final first leg in Hanoi when they went at Singapore in a first half that was as scintillating as it was frustrating for the home side.

Their forwards defended high up the field and with the midfield pressing and the full backs bombing down the flanks with gay abandon it was a joy to watch. Swift passing football across the whole width of the field, all that was missing was goals and you sensed that the longer the game without the Vietnamese scoring, the more the advantage switched to a shell shocked Singapore.

Vietnam had 15 chances on goals compared to Singapore's miserable three and although Noh Alam Shah did force a defender to put through his own goal it was disallowed and Vietnam could breathe again.

The second leg in Singapore saw the Lions take the game to Vietnam, jealously guarding their six year unbeaten run in the competition. But, just like the home side in Hanoi, Singapore did everything but score.

Vietnam broke down the left after some uncertain defending and meeting a cross from the left Nguyen Quang Hai made it 1-0 with his side's only shot on target and sent the Vietnamese fans into Ho Chi Minch heaven.

This team bore no comparison to what had laboured through three group games in Phuket.

The first leg of the final in Bangkok was pretty much settled in three first half minutes when first Nguyen Vu Phong 39', and then Le Cong Vinh 42' really picked up the form book, chewed it up, stuck chewing gum on the wreckage then threw it out the window.

Indeed but for poor decision making in the second half the Vietnamese would be looking at a three goal cushion.

Absorbing the expected Thai onslaught the Vietnamese dropped deep and sprung lightning fast breaks which time and again had the home side on the back foot. Ronnachai's goal 15 minutes from time could either be a consolation or the way back for the Thais.

Moments after the substitute struck the Thais had the ball in the back of the net again but, like the NAS incident in Hanoi days earlier, the linesman gave offside without really seeing the whole move. That has been a problem this competition with the flag quick to rise even though the benefit of the doubt should go with the striker but the words of the head of the Thai FA saying that the Thais may not compete in the next AFF Cup in protest at the poor officiating is nothing more than sour som tam. Didin't hear him whinge too much in Jakarta when the Indonesians had two goals disallowed.

In football a team has to lose but it seems some of the people who run the game in this part of the world haven't quite understood that part of the equation yet.

So, what can we expect from Vietnam today? The pressing, attacking game that had Singapore chasing shadows in Hanoi or the more cautious approach that was adopted in Bangkok?

Whatever, let's hope we remember the football and not other controversies which have marred this and other AFF Cups.

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