AFF Suzuki Cup 2018: Are Azkals still alive or are Vietnam already through?

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan looks closer at Vietnam’s 2-1 win over Philippines in Sunday’s AFF Suzuki Cup 2018 semi-final first leg at the Panaad Stadium.

So with 90 minutes done and another 90 still to be played, it is Vietnam who are currently leading Philippines 2-1 following the first leg of their AFF Suzuki Cup 2018 semi-final.

Goals from Nguyen Anh Duc and Phan Van Duc handed the Golden Dragons the win at the Panaad Stadium, although Patrick Reichelt’s first-half injury-time strike means that Philippines are still in with a shout of overturning the deficit on Thursday.

But, considering how dominant Vietnam have been thus far in the tournament, do the Azkals really have a chance?

FOX Sports Asia delves deeper into the matter.

What went right for Vietnam?

Not for the first time in their campaign, it was a polished if unspectacular display from Park Hang-seo’s charges.

A 12th-minute opener from Anh Duc, after he had been picked out by Doan Van Hau’s lovely floated pass, meant that the Vietnamese were in control of proceedings early on and had their opponents where they wanted them.

Then, having let Reichelt equalise just before the break, the visitors again started the second half with plenty of intent and grabbed what proved to be the winner just three minutes after the restart thanks to the lively Van Duc.

What made the victory even more impressive was the fact that Park did not even need to call upon established stars Nguyen Van Quyet and Luong Xuan Truong, while Nguyen Cong Phuong was restricted to a ten-minute cameo from the bench.

Park has not been afraid to put his faith in youth as long as they warrant a place in his starting XI.

On Sunday, he entrusted Pham Duc Huy and Do Hung Dung to win the midfield battle even though their first starts had only come in the previous game against Cambodia, which many had thought was just so that Xuan Truong could get a rest while Quang Hai was reverted to his usual position in attack.

Yet, having done enough to impress their coach, Park was not afraid to keep them in his starting XI and they did not disappoint.

Another key strength of Vietnam has been at the back and that is one area of the field that Park has resisted from tinkering around excessively.

Dang Van Lam and the back three of Do Duy Manh, Tran Dinh Trong and Que Ngoc Hai have forged an excellent understanding, while Nguyen Trong Hoang and Doan Van Hau perfectly complement the system as the wing-backs.

What went wrong for Philippines?

Perhaps the one positive that helped Philippines get this far also affected their display on Sunday.

Having known in their last group match that a draw would likely be enough to see them qualify for the semis, the Azkals adopted a more tentative approach and it worked as the 0-0 stalemate with Indonesia meant they finished second in Group B.

However, they found it difficult to then rediscover the aggression and energy that had served them so well previously, especially when they overpowered defending champions Thailand in what was ultimately a 1-1 draw.

Philippines struggled to really threaten Vietnam throughout the 90 minutes and were perhaps fortunate to grab a goal, although it was a lovely piece of play between Jovin Bedic, Phil Younghusband and Reichelt.

Also, what has largely been a reliable defence for much of the tournament came undone when it really mattered on Sunday, as the Azkals backline went to sleep on both occasions that Vietnam scored.

Is it over already?

Not quite, purely because there are still positives that Philippines can take from Sunday’s game, especially being the first team to score against Vietnam at AFF Suzuki Cup 2018.

Reichelt also had another decent chance in the closing stages after being picked out by a glorious pass from Stephan Schrock only to blaze over, so the Azkals know they can create chances.

Perhaps the worrying thing is that Vietnam still have plenty of quality waiting in wings, while Philippines barely have anyone in reserve having seen their 23-man squad reduced to 18.

Fatigue, both physical and mental, will take its toll and Philippines coach Sven-Goran Eriksson will be hoping his players can draw on all their reserves – pardon the pun – and produce a big effort in Hanoi on Thursday akin to what they did against the Thais.

A lot has also been made about how Philippines need another “Miracle of Hanoi”, as they did back in the 2010 edition when they beat the defending champions on their own turf and went on to qualify for the semi-finals for the first time ever.

Can Philippines do it?

They most certainly can.

Nonetheless, undermanned and against a Vietnam side looking more and more like legitimate contenders with each passing day, will they do it?

That is the more pertinent question. And, for that, they might really need a miracle.