All good things must come to an end and whether you thought it was a good, bad or ugly campaign, Việt Nam’s World Cup qualification odyssey came to an end last week in Japan.
Four points and eight goals from 10 matches is one way of telling the story of Việt Nam’s bid to reach Qatar, but while the table doesn’t lie, it doesn’t tell the whole story.
With the dust settled, it’s a good time to reflect on what went right for Việt Nam, and what didn’t.
The good – making history
Vietnamese football has seen a lot of firsts in the past few years, and the World Cup campaign was no exception.
Reaching the third round for the first time ever meant coach Park Hang-seo’s men were playing with house money from the opening kickoff, but they weren’t content to make up the numbers.
A 3-1 win over China in Hà Nội in February made Việt Nam the first Southeast Asian team to pick up a point in the third round.
That special night was almost topped last week when Việt Nam held Japan to a 1-1 draw away from home.
While they did ride their luck, the result is what matters at the end of the day and this result made history again as the first time the national team had avoided defeat against Asian giants Japan.
The bad – V.League sacrificed
I feel like I’m flogging a bit of a dead horse with this particular gripe, but it still has to be said – domestic football has suffered greatly in favour of the national team.
Things like the ridiculous four-month V.League 1 break and coach Park being able to keep his charges in camp for ludicrous amounts of time have made it clear that the powers that be see the national team as far more important.
That may be so, but the national teams of the future won’t have much success without a healthy league to feed them with players.
Hopefully, the next time Việt Nam make it to the third round domestic football won’t be sacrificed on the altar of short-term success, but I won’t hold my breath.
The ugly – the actual football
Let’s face it, for large stretches of the campaign there wasn’t much to be excited about on the pitch.
Lots of graft and no lack of commitment, yes, but time and again it was clear Park had set his stall out to avoid heavy defeats, which his team did for the most part.
Perhaps it was the right decision and Park is certainly more qualified to make it than me, but I still can’t help but feel that playing with a bit more bravery might have given Việt Nam the chance to really put the cat among the pigeons in Group B.
The 1-0 home defeat to Australia last September sticks out to me as a match Việt Nam could have taken more from.
The Socceroos didn’t exactly set the world alight throughout the campaign and were pretty pedestrian that night in Hà Nội, so it was a shame Việt Nam didn’t really put their defence under any sustained pressure. VNS