Why Vietnam’s “dead rubber” against Jordan could still be vital

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan believes Vietnam have plenty to play for against Jordan despite already securing their 2019 AFC Asian Cup berth.

The job has been done. Regardless of the outcome of Tuesday’s final Group C qualifier against Jordan, Vietnam are guaranteed their ticket to United Arab Emirates 2019.

Of course, top spot is still up for grabs and – with the result potentially having repercussions on future movement of the FIFA world rankings – victory could even affect how tough a group the Vietnamese find themselves in come next January.

Still, teams from Australia 2015 will attest that there is hardly such a thing as an ‘easy’ game anymore in the Asian Cup, so putting aside all of that, what makes next Tuesday’s tie in Amman so intriguing?

The very fact that the next 90 minutes could usher in a new beginning for Vietnam’s next generation. And a ‘golden’ one for that matter.

It is perhaps fitting given their “Golden Dragons” nickname but there has been an unbridled sense of excitement surrounding Vietnamese football, ever since January’s inspirational showing at the AFC Under-23 Championship.

Seeing off the likes of Iraq and Qatar to reach the final, Vietnam were mere seconds away from taking the final against Uzbekistan to the lottery of a penalty shootout, only to succumb to a 120th-minute winner by Andrey Sidorov.

Despite the obvious immediate disappointment, there was plenty of positives for Vietnam coach Park Hang-seo to take from the tournament, especially given the emergence of a host of starlets like forward Nguyen Quang Hai, left-back Vu Van Thanh and goalkeeper Bui Tien Dung, to name but a few.

And Park is now ready to make these players the foundation of what could be the Vietnam side for the next decade, or – at the very least – give them a chance to prove they can do it against Jordan.

Of the 23 players the South Korean tactician has called up for the match, 14 of them were part of the side that finished as runners-up at the AFC U-23 Championship.

In fact, only six players above the age of 25 have been called up and two of them – Ho Khac Ngoc and Lam Anh Quang – are yet to win their first senior cap.

Having only taken over at the helm last October, Park has spent the first five months of his reign steadying the ship and getting to know his players and the Vietnamese football system better.

But now, with both the year-end AFF Suzuki Cup and next January’s Asian Cup on the horizon, the Vietnam coach can really start assembling the team he believes can take them forward.

There has been no room for sentiment with Nguyen Van Quyet – Vietnam’s best player over the past half-decade – omitted from the squad due to his recent activity as he missed the first two weeks of the new V.League 1 campaign through suspension.

Yet, neither has this been a haphazard spur-of-the-moment decision to rejuvenate the national team just for the sake of it.

When Kiatisuk Senamuang was in charge of Thailand, he effectively used the same team that won the gold medal at the 2013 Southeast Asian Games – an Under-23 tournament – to win the Suzuki Cup a year later.

Yes, at that point in time, Kiatisuk was looking to bring through a new generation but they still had to be good enough.

Now, the likes of Kawin Thamsatchanan, Theerathon Bunmathan and Chanathip Songkrasin are bona fide stars of Southeast Asia, and are all plying their trade overseas.

This Vietnam U-23 side is good enough to form the core of a senior national team despite their relative youth.

Anchorman Luong Xuan Truong and playmaker Nguyen Cong Phuong are both already stalwarts at senior level, while there is no reason why Van Thanh, Quang Hai and Do Duy Manh should not go on to represent Vietnam for the next decade.

There is also the intriguing question as to whether the uncapped Tien Dung – a penalty shootout hero at the AFC U-23 Championship – is given the nod in goal, ahead of two more-experienced contenders in Nguyen Tuan Manh and Dang Van Lam.

Put simply, Jordan are no pushovers. They are a strong mid-level Asian team, who regularly find themselves just below that top echelon which includes Iran, Japan, Korea Republic, Saudi Arabia, Australia, China and Uzbekistan.

Their record in 2017 consisted of just one defeat in 12 matches and they have even recorded victories over European opposition Georgia and Denmark since the start of last year.

However, if Vietnam want to make an impact at next year’s Asian Cup – like they did with the U-23s – and not just be there in UAE to make up the numbers, Jordan are a type of opponents that they will have to be capable of defeating.

And next Tuesday’s dead rubber can instead be a dress rehearsal for this young Vietnam side to prove to Park that he is right to put – and keep – his faith in them.