SAITAMA — Việt Nam has shocked Asia by ending their World Cup qualification campaign with a 1-1 draw against Japan in Saitama on Tuesday.
Young star Nguyễn Thanh Bình opened the scoring for Việt Nam early in the first half, before Japan’s captain, Maya Yoshida, equalised in the second.
The Golden Star Warriors, fresh off their disappointing 0-1 loss at home to Oman on March 24, were plagued with personnel woes before facing The Blue Samurais. Top scorer Nguyễn Tiến Linh was injured and did not travel with the team to Japan, whilst on-form defender Nguyễn Thành Chung was suspended after having received too many yellow cards. Nguyễn Thanh Bình and Nguyễn Công Phượng started in their place.
US$79.9 million (VNĐ1.83 trillion) was the difference between the two teams in terms of player value according to the football statistics website Transfermarkt, but Park Hang-seo’s team of Davids was mentally prepared to overcome the odds against the Goliaths of Japan.
Having qualified for the World Cup after a 2-0 win against Australia in Melbourne last Thursday, Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu chose to rest European stars such as Takumi Minamino and Junya Ito. Kaoru Mitoma and Ayase Ueda were trusted to headline the men in blue’s attack.
The match started slow, with Japan in control of possession and most of the early chances, but Việt Nam’s defence was strong and Japan was forced into long-range efforts.
Coach Park’s men were again sharp in counterattacks, and one counter from the left-wing led to Việt Nam’s first corner of the match.
Phượng, who played five matches in Japan for Mito HollyHock, took the corner and found Bình free in the far post, after Quế Ngọc Hải had distracted Maya Yoshida. The 21-year-old defender opened the scoreline for Việt Nam with a powerful header.
Japan increased pressure toward Trần Nguyên Mạnh’s goal, but Việt Nam was able to keep their slim lead before going to the tunnel.
Moriyasu brought in Junya Ito to go all-in for the comeback at home, and the changes worked as Japan got the equaliser in the 55th minute. Genki Haraguchi’s vicious shot from just outside the box was not well-handled by Nguyên Mạnh, and the rebound reached Maya Yoshida who slotted home.
Japan then brought on more strikers, including Liverpool’s Takumi Minamino, and Việt Nam’s defence seemed to collapse. In the 69th minute, Ao Tanaka was through on goal and seemingly put Japan into the lead, but VAR stepped in and denied the Blue Samurai after Minamino handled the ball in the moments leading up to the goal.
In the 77th minute, Yoshida was gifted a great chance when the ball rebounded to him again. The net was empty for the Japanese captain to put it in, but his shot went horrendously wide. Ten minutes later Tanaka put the ball into the net, but his goal was cancelled, again for offside.
With only 27.6 per cent of possession and one shot to Japan’s 24, Việt Nam stayed strong in the final minutes to secure the draw and end their 2022 World Cup qualification campaign with a bang. The Golden Star Warriors made history by being the first Southeast Asian team to win a game, and scored the most points (4) in a World Cup qualification third round for a Southeast Asian nation.
Coach Park will now turn his focus to the SEA Games in May on home soil, where young stars such as this match’s hero, Thanh Bình, will play a great part in Việt Nam’s under-23’s defense of their SEA Games gold medal. — VNS