Kelvin Leong picks out five talking points from Vietnam’s 2-1 win over Philippines in the AFF Suzuki Cup semifinal second leg at My Dinth Stadium on Thursday night.
There was a lot of pre-match hype around whether Philippines can pull off another ‘Miracle of Hanoi’ but Vietnam’s quality and class came through despite the game failing to live up to expectations.
With the first leg ending 2-1 in Vietnam’s favour in Bacolod, the Azkals needed at least two goals or to match the result from the previous game.
A slew of changes were made by Sven-Goran Eriksson but the game never really got going as Vietnam were happy to let the clock run down.
It was not until the final 10 minutes before the deadlock was broken. Vietnam’s golden boy Nguyen Quang Hai scored on 83 minutes before substitute Nguyen Cong Phuong made it two for the hosts.
There was a very slight glimmer of hope when James Younghusband pulled one back with a minute left. However, it proved to be nothing more than a consolation as the referee blew the whistle to send the partisan crowd into wild celebrations.
1. Azkals captain P. Younghusband’s penalty shout
Vietnam came charging out of the gates and were all over their opponents in the opening exchanges although, the visitors should have caught a lucky break in the 13th minute.
A ball over the top of the Vietnam defence caught Do Duy Manh out and with Phil Younghusband zooming in on goal, the centre-back grabbed the Filipino’s jersey and took him down.
Eriksson and the Azkals bench came charging out as Younghusband demanded a penalty from referee Kimura Hiroyuki to no avail.
Replays clearly showed that Do was desperately holding onto Younghusband’s jersey and had the penalty been given and converted, the visitors would have had the perfect boost for the remaining 77 minutes.
2. Vietnam’s young defence needs a leader
The Golden Dragons are using the Suzuki Cup as their final preparations for the Asian Cup 2019 and coach Park Hang-seo must be a worried man.
While the backline have only conceded one goal in the whole tournament prior to this match, their first-half performance left much to be desired on the defensive end.
The three-man defence led by captain Que Ngoc Hai alongside Tran Dinh Trong and Do Duy Manh looked a bundle of nerves whenever Philippine got their crosses in.
Duy Manh, was especially nervous with P. Younghusband on his side and if the Vietnamese are to lift a second Suzuki Cup trophy, Ngoc Hai, who is the most experienced player at the back must play the father-figure and provide guidance.
Then again, the 25-year-old captain is a volatile character and his anger management issues showed up in the 78th minute when he had a heated exchange with his own goalkeeper Dang Van Lam.
3. Schrock must be the heart of Azkals heartbeat
If there was one Filipino who truly believed in the cause on that pitch, it was Ceres-Negros midfielder Stephan Shrock.
The 32-year-old went in for the tackles from the get go and was fearless despite incurring the wrath of the My Dinh faithful.
While his teammates took some time to settle down in the Hanoi cauldron, Schrock went to work at both ends quickly.
His crosses, tricky flicks and brashness gave the hosts a nightmare at times but alas, his teammates were not on the same page.
Eriksson must have seen enough in this tournament to work his tactics around the German-born playmaker for their Asian Cup 2019 debut.
4. Vietnam keep unbeaten streak in world football
Vietnam came into this game with the longest active unbeaten streak in international football ahead of World Champions France, who fell to a defeat to Netherlands last month.
They extend their streak to 14 games unbeaten after another solid performance at the My Dinh Stadium.
Vietnam’s last defeat was on 7th December 2016, and they now sit on seven draws and seven victories as they head into the final against Malaysia.
If they successfully navigate Malaysia in the final over two legs, along with their friendlies against North Korea (Dec 25) and the Philippines (Dec 31), the Golden Dragons will be on a two-year unbeaten streak.
What an achievement that would be.
5. James the centurion scores on his special day
The partisan crowd didn’t care but when James Younghusband came on in the 69th minute for Carlos de Murga, it was his 100th international appearance for the Azkals.
He then went on to cap off this incredible achievement with a consolation goal for the visitors in the 89th minute, to make it 12 goals in 100 caps.
At 32 years of age, you have to wonder how long more he and his brother Phil – 52 goals in 103 appearances – can go on for.
But one thing is for sure, the most successful brothers to have donned the Azkals shirt will be in the United Arab Emirates for the Asian Cup 2019.
While it is commendable that the Younghusbands are both at the centurions roundtable, Azkals must start finding their next wave of young players before the current crop of stars call it a day.
Only five out of their 23-man squad are below the age of 25 and nine are into their 30s. The national team needs new blood but for now, they have the Asian Cup to look forward to.