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No tomorrow against Vietnam

BANGKOK—When both the Philippines and Vietnam take on each other this Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at the Rajamangala Stadium in Bangkok, it will not simply be a do-or-die game to keep their hopes alive of advancing to the next stage of the competition but it will have some nervy undertones.

After the opening results of Group A play in the 2010 Suzuki Cup, Vietnam drew with Myanmar, 1-1, while the Philippines lost to Thailand, 2-1. Thailand is on top the group while Myanmar and Vietnam are tied for second. The Philippines is last in Group A. A win for either team is a must if they want to keep alive any hopes of advancing to the semifinals stage.

A day to remember and forget

For one country, December 5 is a day of celebration while for another it is a day of infamy. While not of Pearl Harbor proportions, the result of that football match in the 2010 Suzuki Cup had explosive results and set off a chain reaction that is felt to this day.

That chilly December night, the Philippines played Vietnam at My Dinh National Stadium to an overflow crowd of 40,000. It was the second match for both countries in Group B competition. Vietnam, the defending champions, had pretty much their entire title team of 2008 back save for Le Cong Vinh who was injured. But they showed no signs of letup after they crushed Myanmar 7-1; the highest tally of the entire tournament.

The Philippines, on the other hand, stunned mighty Singapore with a stoppage time goal from Chris Greatwich and some superb defending from its backline and goalkeeper Neil Etheridge.

During the press conference that preceded the games, Singapore and Vietnam figured to score about five or six goals against the Philippines. But in one game, the Azkals showed that they were a much different team.

Against Vietnam, the team overcame a barrage of shots at goal before Chris Greatwich (the hero of the Singapore match), once more found the back of the net for a 38th minute goal. In the dying minutes of the game with Vietnam relentlessly pounding Etheridge and the Philippines’s defense, Phil Younghusband sucked the air and life out of My Dinh with an insurance goal in the 79th minute despite playing ill.

There was a near fight between then-Philippines head coach Simon McMenemy and then-Vietnam head coach Henrique Callisto, who was upset because he thought that the Philippines parked the bus on them. The latter refused to shake the former’s hand following the match and in the post-game press conference, Callisto angrily confronted McMenemy outside.

Both coaches soon were replaced after the tournament for different reasons but between the two, Vietnam was left seething.

A date circled in red

On November 27 the two countries will lock horns once more, this time in the all-important do-or-die match. However, once again it will be in their second assignment. Vietnam is hesitant to say the loss to the Philippines was a fluke. They are wary as is every one else. In fact, this is the first time since the tournament kicked off in 1996 where no one said that they expected to score x amount of goals against the Azkals. But they keenly await the rematch and have patiently waited so for two years now.

Both teams are different from the sides that faced each other in Hanoi. Of the four countries in Group A, Vietnam’s national team is the only one that will not parade a foreign coach.

“After 20 years, we have decided to not invite any foreign coaches and just go with a local,” said Vietnamese Football Federation General Secretary and national team manager Ngo Lec Bang. “We feel that we have learned a lot and maybe it is time to try out what we have learned on our own.”

The exact number of years is 17 since Brazilian Edson Tavares took over beginning a parade of eight foreign coaches who led the Red Warriors. It was with Portuguese coach Henrique Callisto with whom Vietnam tasted great success as they won the 2008 Suzuki Cup and placed third in 2010. He was succeeded by German Falko Gotz, who managed the team for five games where they won three and lost two. “Not bad for some countries but unacceptable by our standards,” explained Bang.

Now patrolling the sidelines for Vietnam is 52-year-old former national striker Phan Than Hung, who led the national side to a mediocre finish in the 2012 Vietnam Football Federation Cup—a four-nation tourney where a South Korea university selection took home the trophy with a two win and one draw slate over the host country and Turkmenistan and Laos.

In an interview with Hung, the coach said that there is added motivation for Vietnam to be in the same group as the Philippines, who famously inflicted on them a 2-0 loss at home in the last staging of the Suzuki Cup in Hanoi. “We remember 2010,” he said. “We would like to get back at the Philippines but that will not be so easy.”

It is a veteran Vietnamese side that is here in Bangkok for the Suzuki Cup. “Group of Death?” dispelled Hung, “Either group is a ‘Group of Death’. You cannot take any team for granted.”

Bang admitted though that it is a young Vietnamese side that will be playing in the tournament with only 10 veterans of 2010 in uniform. One of their starting defenders was hospitalized the other day because of dengue fever. Their leading scorers in the last Suzuki Cup, Nguyen Trong Hoang and Nguyen Vu Phong, will not be seeing action although top striker Nguyen Anh Duc is present and healthy.

Preview of the game

Against Myanmar, Vietnam dominated the first half with a lot of their attacks coming from the left wing. When they shifted the attack to the right they got their goal. Azkals coach Michael Weiss noted the Red Warriors’ control of the midfield. “Their middle and forward players are very fluid with the ball. If you allow them to play their game they will be dangerous.”

Vietnam, on the other hand, is worried about the state of their players. Several are down with niggling injuries and morale was low after conceding the equalizer to Myanmar. “We have to forget the draw and focus on the Philippines,” noted Bang with urgency. “The Philippines is strong and dangerous. They have tall players who can win headers. They were a bit unlucky in my opinion against Thailand but they will adjust.”

With the performance of the late-game substitutes during the Thailand match, Weiss is looking to juggle his lineup. He lamented the use of the long ball that his squad oft resorted to against Thailand. “A long ball is borne out of desperation and often does not help. If done at the right time and with the striker in place, then maybe we will see a goal. But that is not what we want to play.”

“I need warriors to play on Tuesday.”







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