Vietnam aim for another AFF Cup victory

Coach Park Hang-seo wants to win the AFF Cup for the second time, although he might not have his best players at the December regional tournament.

Park triumphed in the 2018 edition but could not defend top place in the 2020 competition.

The Korean expert's contract with the Vietnam Football Federation will end next January, and the AFF Cup may be the last competition with the national team if the two sides decide not to sit down to talk about an extension.

Park did not comment after the cup's draw on August 30 but confirmed his determination to win earlier.

"Last time (2020 AFF Cup), it was a pity that we lost to Thailand (in the semi-finals) and could not defend our title. This time I want to take it back, winning the trophy for the second time," Park said.

"We could make it in 2018, making millions of supporters happy. We can make it one more time this year. "

However, in the December 23 to January 15 events, Park may not have his most talented midfielder Nguyen Quang Hai who is playing for Pau FC in French Ligue 2.

Veterans such as midfielder Nguyen Trong Hoang, defender Bui Tien Dung and Tran Dinh Trong and strikers Nguyen Cong Phuong and Nguyen Tien Linh are either injured or have just recovered from their injuries so their chances to join Park's squad are not clear.

However, Park's determination has been strengthened by his Vietnamese colleagues and players who believe in a positive result for Vietnam.

"It is a good draw for Vietnam, facing Malaysia, Laos, Myanmar and Singapore in the group stage. I think Vietnam will meet no difficulty to step into the semi-finals," said coach Dinh The Nam of the national U20 team.

Meanwhile, international Phan Van Duc and Que Ngoc Hai cannot wait to perform, although they also acknowledge the challenges waiting ahead.

"Our performance will be better than in 2020 when the V.League 1 was paused because of the pandemic while we are playing our league currently. The tournament is back to the home-away format this year, which will make us much stronger with the amazing support of local fans," said defender Que Ngoc Hai.

"Of course, we also suffer pressure, especially playing away, but it will make the tournament more attractive. And as usual, we target the final match and silverware."

Midfielder Phan Van Duc said, "Malaysia and Singapore are two big obstacles to Vietnam in Group B. We will have to vie for a semi-final slot against them." 

"The key here is how we prepare for the games. Personally, I always think about a match versus Thailand. It would be good if it is the final."

Coaches' plans

Coach Kim Pan Gon believed it was a favourable draw for his Malaysia side.

"It is a good draw, although Vietnam, Singapore and Myanmar are in our group. Vietnam is the strongest team in the group," Kim said.

"Park Hang-seo has a complete team. Singapore, Myanmar and Laos have good teams. We do not care whether the teams are strong or weak. We will do our best in every game." 

Malaysia last won the AFF Cup in 2010 under coach Datuk K Rajagobal.

Malaysia has naturalised several players to help find AFF Cup glory and will introduce them in the December event.

Midfielder Lee Tuck is the latest case and the fourth in the team.

The 34-year-old player has played in ASEAN countries for many years. He has played 91 matches in Malaysia since 2016 and scored 31 goals.

Other 'imported' players are Mohamadou Sumareh (Gambia), Liridon Krasniqi (Kosovo) and Guilherme de Paula (Brazil).

Coach Antoine Hey of Myanmar is confident in creating difficulties for title favourites based on their head-to-head statistics.

Myanmar is the only team in the group Vietnam has not beaten during Park's five-year reign.

The German tactician said Myanmar were in an attractive group. Myanmar will show a stronger performance because its local leagues have restarted, and some of its players are sharpening their skills abroad.

He said Myanmar's timetable was also reasonable, adding a reason to be confident.

The team will kick off the tournament on home ground and will have a rest after the two first matches. The players will fully recover ahead of the last group match with Vietnam on January 3.

Coach Nishigaya Takayuki of Singapore said: "We will not underestimate any team and are eager to face our group-stage opponents. The team did well to reach the semi-finals in the previous edition, and we will aim to give our best again this time and challenge for the trophy, but it is also important to stay focused and take it game by game.

"Of course, I understand the intense rivalry between Singapore and Malaysia, and it is an experience I am looking forward to. Furthermore, I am very excited as this will be my first time leading the Lions at this regional tournament since taking charge of the team."

 Group A activities

Thailand head coach Alexandre Polking prefers the new tournament format, and like Park, he does not know if he could pick the best players for his team.

The 'Thai Messi' Chanathip Songkrasin has refused to join as he wanted to rest after a long and hard tournament with his Kawasaki Frontale in the J.League.

Songkrasin scored two goals in Thailand's 2-0 win over Vietnam in the 2020 Cup's semis.

Meanwhile, Thanawat Suengchitthawon, a midfielder for Premier League club Leicester City has to rest for at least six months after ligament surgery.

"I believe the home and away format for this year's tournament will be very nice for the fans especially. With two group stage games being played at home, it will give a different atmosphere and makes it more special than the previous edition," said Polking.

"Thailand might not have the strongest players, but we have enough time to make up a good team and defend our title. As the defending champion, we are ready to face and beat any rival."

Coach Shin Tae-yong said Indonesia, strengthened by naturalised players, would win this year's tournament.

"I will prepare the Indonesian national team well and maximally to win the 2022 AFF Cup," said Shin.

He added that Thailand are the most formidable opponent in Group A, but other rivals also needed to be watched carefully.

"For the selection of players, I will choose the best players in condition, and of course, there are naturalised players. Especially at this time, Sandy Wals, Jordy Amat, and Shayne Pattiname are still in the naturalisation process. We hope the three of them can soon join the Indonesian national team," Shin said.

Cambodia's Nick Taylor, who also has a US passport, will compete at the cup. The 24-year-old plays as a forward for Orlando City B in the MLS.

He has played 20 matches this season, scoring one and assisting two.

Taylor will join other stars to play a friendly match against Bangladesh on September 22 as a warm-up for the cup.