The Local Game: Pork, chicken and Việt Nam’s game of inches

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The national team in training in Singapore for the AFF Cup. Photo

Peter Cowan

To paraphrase a line from Tony D’Amato, football is a game of inches.

Alright, so Al Pacino’s character in the film Any Given Sunday was talking about a different flavour of football than the type played on these shores, but you get the idea.

While D’Amato’s rousing locker room speech gives the impression that professional athletes can gain that inch of advantage by wanting it more or being extra motivated, the reality is the distance between winning and losing is made up of slightly more dull inches.

Did your centre midfielder get seven hours of sleep, but theirs got eight? Did the opposition spend one extra pre-season session defending short corners? Did your left back put in the extra time to treat his tweaked hamstring?

While a film about how much sleep professional athletes get might not make for gripping viewing, it would be a bit closer to reality. At the highest levels, everyone is motivated, everyone wants to win as much as they want to breathe.

Those inches the athletes need to win are sometimes down to their actions, but just as often what the non-playing staff do make the difference.

The events of the last week off the pitch have me wondering if the Vietnamese national team will have those crucial extra inches on their side.

First, their came the news on Friday that Việt Nam would have a 29-man squad at the AFF Cup in Singapore, instead of the maximum 30 that I believe all the other teams will have.

The reason? Administrators tried to add midfielder Đỗ Hùng Dũng, who recently returned from injury, to the squad three days after the tournament’s registration deadline.

Fellow midfielder Lý Công Hoàng Anh was registered to play but didn’t travel with the team to Singapore as Dũng was set to replace him. When it became clear Dũng couldn’t play, the Việt Nam Football Federation (VFF) attempted to send Anh in his place, but due to COVID restrictions in Singapore, he too wasn’t allowed to go.

So now, through no fault of their own, both Dũng and Anh will miss out on the tournament, and the national team will be down a player.

The difference between 29 and 30 players may not seem like much, but it could end up being a significant inch. A couple of injuries and suspensions to midfielders could make this simple admin error a costly mistake.

Then on Saturday, reported that the national team had eaten chicken and fish for three days at their hotel in Singapore, with no pork in sight.

Again, this may seem trivial, but if the athletes feel they need a taste of their home comforts to perform at their best, it could end up making the difference between winning and losing. Physical performance levels can drop without sufficient nutrient intake and then there’s the wildcard of the psychological impact of being in an unfamiliar place eating unfamiliar food.

Who’s to blame for this pork predicament? Some may say the tournament organisers, or perhaps the hotel.

For me though, whoever is to blame, the non-playing and non-coaching members of the travelling party have to sort this type of thing out, preferably ahead of time, and certainly before the players have to go three days eating food they don’t want.

Việt Nam may have found it easy to trounce minnows Laos by two goals to nil in their opening match last night, but the inches they need in the latter stages of the tournament may be found in the difference between chicken and pork. VNS

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