Meet Malaysia's semi-final foes with a Japanese head coach and a goal machine
Despite not having an impressive resume and even admitting that he was inexperienced in Southeast Asian football, Toshiya Miura was chosen to be the new head coach. Noting that the Vietnamese players are as fast and as technically good as the Japanese but lacking in stamina and tactical vision, he has created tough training regimes to vastly improve the Gold Stars.
After conquering the 2008 edition, the national team finished in third place in 2010 and went completely downhilled in 2012 as they were knocked out in the group stages. This year, they made it into the semi-finals for the seventh time since the tournament began in 1996.
Energetic pressing and quick counter-attack are their main weapons as the Reds always attack directly with speed and quick passing. Miura has often used a flat 4-4-2 formation and instructed his players to play a high defensive line, which allows the team to apply pressure and win the ball in their opponents’ territory. He also has a tendency of using different pairings of forwards in every match, which can disrupt the opponents’ pre-match preparations.
When the iconic Le Cong Vinh and team captain Le Tan Tai were put on the bench in the first game against Indonesia, questions were raised to Miura, who answered: “We have a lot of options.” That has seemed to be the case, as Vietnam’s starting XI can be very difficult to predict – 18 players have been used in the three group matches so far, with only six of them starting in all.
A lot have also been said about their strong and comprehensive midfielders as well. Nguyen Huy Hung and Ngo Hoang Thinh – who both managed to bag a goal despite being defensive-minded players – are showing that their youth can bring confidence and fearless attitude. Meanwhile, Tan Tai is still useful with his experience and the ability to dictate tempo.
The lack of Plan B is worrying, as Miura has only used the 4-4-2 formation in every single game in his reign so far. If the opponents can control the midfield well, he will have a tough time to readjust his team. On top of that, the pre-Suzuki Cup friendly against Palestine showed that the Vietnamese would struggle to play well against physically strong opponents.
Le Cong Vinh – With two 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup goals to his name, Cong Vinh has continued to show how important he is to the team. Vietnam's all-time leading goal-scorer is likely to keep his place in the starting XI against semi-finalists Malaysia.
Pham Thanh Luong – Although he had a below par season with Hanoi T&T in the V-League, Thanh Luong has been in a good form at the tournament so far. His long-range goal against the Philippines is arguably one of the best moments in his career so far.
Vu Minh Tuan – Minh Tuan is a new boy in the team, but he has quickly cemented his place in the starting XI. He plays more centrally at club level but has shown his versatility in playing on the right wing for his national team.
Dinh Tien Thanh – The defender has not been hitting the form he was in during the 2014 V-League season, which was especially evident in the opening Group A match against Indonesia. He made a couple of mistakes, in which one of them directly led to Indonesia’s equaliser. He got better in subsequent matches, but nobody can guarantee that he will stand strong under big pressure.
How to beat them
Although no team in Group A managed to successfully exploit it, their high defensive line can be problematic for their own good – something the head coach himself admitted right before the tournament began. A quick accurate ball to the back of the defence and some pacey legs will cause a lot of problems for Miura’s men.