The semi-finals of the AFF Suzuki Cup are here, and the first two teams to take to the pitch will be Indonesia and Vietnam on Saturday.
Indonesia will have home advantage in the first leg and will be looking to take full advantage of that before they travel to Vietnam for the second leg on Wednesday.
Indonesia’s road to the semi-finals was a tough one as they had to wait until the final group stage match to book their spot in the last four.
With the Philippines having lost to reigning champions Thailand, Indonesia stunned Singapore 2-1 to leapfrog the Lions and Azkals into second place on the Group A standings.
Indonesia head coach Alfred Riedl was delighted with his side’s victory over Singapore, but admitted that they cannot afford to underestimate Vietnam as they finished atop the Group B standings.
“We came back from 0-1 [against Singapore] because the morale of the team is very good,” he said. “We tell them never to give up.
“We got a little bit of luck, but that was the luck we didn’t get in the matches before. We didn’t play one bad match in the group stage.
“In my opinion they are the second best team in Southeast Asia behind Thailand. They are an experienced team with talented players. Their coach [Nguyen Huu Thang], who is my former captain of the national team, is doing a good job there.
“It will be very difficult for us to advance to the final. They might be a little bit better than us, but they will have to prove it.”
Riedl also pointed out that his side have to keep a close eye on Vietnam striker Le Cong Vinh as the 30-year-old is just three goals away from becoming the all-time leading scorer in AFF Suzuki Cup history.
“I’ve known him personally for 13 years,” Riedl said. “We’ve tried in our training to do some exercise because we know his movement. It will be difficult to stop him but we are prepared for this. But he is not alone, the other players are good also.”
As for Vietnam, they will be looking to beat Indonesia on the road before returning home for the second leg.
Vietnam were by far the best team in Group B and remain unbeaten in the tournament as they won all their group stage games.
With so much at stake on Saturday, head coach Nguyen Huu Thang has made it clear that his team will do everything in their power to walk away victorious.
“What we have gained this year is a good mentality,” he said. “I focus on building the team spirit and we all understand this so we are ready. One of the few things I repeat is to never give up. A game lasts around 95 minutes and the players should fight until the last second.”
Huu Thang added that it would be foolish of his team to let their guard down against Indonesia even though they conceded seven goals in their three group stage matches.
“Indonesia have proved to be more dangerous game by game,” he conceded. “They have many players who can pressure us and create chances so I have to consider a lot of factors.
“But we are also a team of talented players and we will show what we can do tomorrow.”
When asked about Riedl, Huu Thang said: “We have met each other in two friendly games lately and now we meet again in the semi-final. I respect Riedl a lot and I think this will be a very exciting match because we know each other quite well.”