HÀ NỘI — Việt Nam’s male volleyball team are going for gold at the SEA Games while the women hope to better the silver medal they won at the last meet.
But this is no easy feat, as they face tough competition in the group stages.
There are five teams in the women’s group with the two best teams advancing to the final.
Việt Nam have been in the gold-medal match nine times but have never won. And Thailand will be the biggest challenge for the hosts.
They have won the title 13 times in a row and defeated Việt Nam in eight finals.
“Thailand are in higher level compared to ASEAN teams,” national head coach Thái Thanh Tùng of the women’s team told Việt Nam News.
“They are world-class and are definitely the title favourites. Thailand will play with several young players but despite their age they are still powerful.
“Because of the tournament’s round-robin formula, we have to win at least three matches to be in the final. On the way to get there, Thailand will take one, then Indonesia are clearly the team who will fight us for the other spot.”
Indonesia, who nearly missed this Games because of financial shortage, threatened Việt Nam’s second place since the 2019 Games but failed. This year they set a higher target to win a gold.
“Our strong rivals are just one of the many difficulties that we have faced during our preparation,” said Tùng.
“Almost all of my players were positive with COVID-19 and were isolated. They have only been training since March.
“The pandemic also prevented us from taking part in training camps abroad. Instead we will just have a couple of weeks in Ninh Bình starting in the next few days. We have only one month left to lift the team. In the SEA Games, every match is a final.”
This year, Tùng will have talented player Nguyễn Thị Bích Tuyền, best spiker of the 2021 national championship, in his team after she refused in the past to take part due to personal reasons.
The coach also welcomed back his skipper Trần Thị Thanh Thúy who just finished her spell in Japan’s V.League.
The return of veteran Nguyễn Thị Ngọc Hoa, one of the best Vietnamese players, will also help her young teammates gain confidence.
One the men’s side, Việt Nam are in Group A with defending champions Indonesia, Myanmar and Malaysia after the draw took place on Friday. Group B has silver medallists Philippines and third-placed Thailand.
Việt Nam have only twice advanced to the final match in the 2007 and 2015 SEA Games. Three years ago, the team were eliminated from the group round after three losses.
“A gold medal mission is really putting high pressure on us,” said assistant coach Trần Đình Tiền.
“COVID-19 was a big challenge for us with no international competitions and training camps and we also couldn’t assess the other teams’ capacity.”
“But head coach Li Huan Ning is very confident after working with us for nearly a year. We have had good preparation for seven months and players are fluent with tactics and good in technique.”
After taking charge of the team last May, Li, from China, held talks with the local coaching board and the Việt Nam Volleyball Federation. He confirmed his mission was to lead Việt Nam to the top podium.
“I want to take SEA Games gold medal. This task will put heavy pressure on players but also push them as well. In fact, other teams are strong but my assistants and I mapped out plans to help Việt Nam improve.”
Coach Tiền added: “We are getting better, but so are our rivals. Our first step is to advance to the semis. In Group A, our direct rival is Myanmar. Beating them means we are closer to the last four rounds.
“We will do everything to complete our mission.”
The men’s team will take part in a 10-day training course in Nha Trang from April 15. They will have several friendly matches against local Sanest Khánh Hòa Club before moving to train at the Quảng Ninh Province’s Đại Yên Gymnasium which hosts volleyball events from May 13-22.
The video challenger system will be applied at the 31st SEA Games to help referees officiate their matches well. — VNS