Anh Đức & Peter Cowan
HÀ NỘI — Việt Nam began their defence of the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Cup with a stuttering 2-0 win against Laos in Singapore on Monday night.
The tournament, delayed for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is a chance for coach Park Hang-seo’s men to return to winning ways after a difficult World Cup campaign, but if they are to go all the way and win it again, they will have to improve on the performance in Bishan Stadium.
Minnows Laos struggled to lay a glove on Việt Nam but battled for the entire 90 minutes and can be proud of a commendable performance.
Việt Nam started without key players Nguyễn Quang Hải and Quế Ngọc Hải, an indication perhaps of how Park anticipated the game unfolding.
Laos gave a first cap to naturalised striker Billy Ketkeophomphone, but the French Ligue 2 player was isolated up front and struggled to make an impact in the early exchanges.
Việt Nam dominated the ball in the first half but were made to wait until the 27th minute for the opening goal.
Midfielder Nguyễn Hoàng Đức played in Nguyễn Phong Hồng Duy with a delightful ball down the left, allowing the fullback to square the ball across the box. Nguyễn Công Phượng was on hand to sweep the ball home.
Despite having the lion’s share of the ball, Việt Nam were unable to create a second clear-cut opening in the opening period.
In the second half, it was more of the same with Việt Nam camped in the Laos half.
The Vietnamese made the game safe nine minutes into the second half, as Phan Văn Đức headed from an accurate cross from Hồ Tấn Tài.
While the two-goal lead ensure Việt Nam would be leaving with all three points, they struggled to create decent chances to put a gloss on the game.
Indeed Laos almost pulled a goal back in the 72nd minute through Ketkeophomphone when the striker went through on goal, but goalkeeper Trần Nguyên Mạnh was equal to the effort.
Việt Nam immediately broke on the counter and won a penalty when Vũ Văn Thanh’s shot his Chitpasong Latthachack’s hand.
Thanh stepped up to take the spot kick, but his tame effort was easily saved by goalkeeper Keo-Oudone Souvannasangso.
The match petered out from there, with the Lao players dead on their feet and Việt Nam unable to make another breakthrough.
Park’s men will next face Malaysia on Sunday and if they are to come away with a second win, a better performance will be needed. VNS