Park Hang-seo’s faith in youth bodes well for Vietnam’s fut…

FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan believes Vietnam coach Park Hang-seo deserves credit for putting his faith in youth at AFF Suzuki Cup 2018.

For a man who is arguably best known for an achievement that happened 16 years ago, Park Hang-seo has a remarkably modern approach to football management.

Back in September 2017, when Park was unveiled as Vietnam’s new coach and many were scrambling to find out more about him, it was his role as assistant to Guus Hiddink when Korea Republic achieved a historic fourth-place finish at the 2002 FIFA World Cup that was most prominently mentioned, as compared to his spells in charge of notable K League clubs such as Jeonnam Dragons, Gyeongnam FC and Sangju Sangmu.

At 59, Park is by no means a young coach but in just over a year in charge of the Golden Dragons, he has already shown a real affinity with youth.

On Saturday, Vietnam booked their place in the semi-finals of AFF Suzuki Cup 2018 by finishing top of Group A with a 3-0 triumph over Cambodia.

From his 23-man squad, 15 players are only 23 years or younger.

In comparison, Malaysia – the other team to progress from Group A – have just eight in the same age bracket and even defending champions Thailand, of which plenty has been made about how they have fielded a second-string side for the tournament, have just three.

Only Laos and Timor-Leste have more players aged 23 and below and that is unsurprising considering they are both widely regarded as the two weakest teams in the competition and are building towards the future.

Still, for a side tipped to challenge for top honours, there is something special about Vietnam attempting to do it with such a youthful-looking side.

Vietnam are the only side yet to concede a goal at AFF Suzuki Cup 2018.

Granted, there are experienced campaigners in the form of captain Nguyen Van Quyet, centre-back Que Ngoc Hai and target man Nguyen Anh Duc, but the younger brigade have been equally pivotal in leading the charge and the Vietnamese are already reaping the rewards of their recent successes at Under-23 level.

Nguyen Quang Hai continues to enhance his reputation with each match, Nguyen Cong Phuong and Luong Xuan Truong are primed to finally deliver on their potential, while – in defence – Tran Dinh Trong and Do Duy Manh play with a maturity beyond their years.

Park has already achieved plenty in just over a year in charge.

But the confidence they possess has to have to come from somewhere… a coach’s faith in them.

And, more impressively, Park was unafraid to blood even more untried talent on Saturday.

Granted, they were expected to beat the Cambodians on home soil but it was still a must-win game with a semi-final berth yet to be secured, but the South Korean tactician had no qualms throwing in more youngsters in such a high-pressure situation.

Replacing Anh Duc as the focal point in attack, Nguyen Tien Linh – who scored four goals in a V.League 1 game earlier this year – fitted in seamlessly, while Nguyen Phong Hong Duy was a livewire at left wing-back.

So, although Anh Duc and Van Quyet are likely to be restored to the starting XI in the semis, Park can do so in the knowledge that he has plenty of hungry and willing options waiting to be called on from the bench.

Given this is undoubtedly a “golden generation”, Vietnamese football must look to make the most of this rare opportunity and aiming to qualify for a future World Cup, or the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo at the very least, has to be a target.

The fact that the Golden Dragons have installed a man at the helm who is not afraid to put his faith in youth bodes well for their future.

Yet, considering they are now four games away from winning only a second Suzuki Cup crown and then will be competing against the continent’s best at January’s AFC Asian Cup 2019, it could just bode well for the present too.

Number of players aged 23 and below at AFF Suzuki Cup 2018

VIETNAM: 15/23 (65.2%)

MALAYSIA: 7/23 (30.4%)

MYANMAR: 15/23 (65.2%)

CAMBODIA: 10/23 (43.5%)

LAOS: 17/23 (73.9%)

THAILAND: 3/23 (13.0%)

PHILIPPINES: 4/23 (17.4%)

SINGAPORE: 5/23 (21.7%)

INDONESIA: 13/23 (56.5%)

TIMOR-LESTE: 20/23 (87.0%)

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