Vietnam target high finish at AFF U23 championship

Vietnam takes part in the AFF U23 Championship fielding their younger, under 21 squad, but still aim for the highest possible finish at the tournament in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

The championship runs from February 14 to 26. Vietnam are in Group C with Thailand and Singapore. Group A has East Timor, the Philippines, Brunei and the hosts. Group B includes Malaysia, Myanmar and Laos.

The top team of each group and the second-placed team with the best results will advance to the semi-finals.

"Like other teams, Vietnam has also prepared pretty well for this competition," said coach Dinh The Nam.

"We have trained for a month. And we will target the highest possible place.

"I have confidence in the front line but the defence is not quite good enough. Defenders are not totally focused and still lack confidence.

"It is the first time playing internationally for some of my players. We must push their confidence up, We still have several days to improve the team ahead of the first match."

Nam, who led Vietnam's U16 team to the Asian championship's quarter-finals in 2016, said the team will have to be at their best in every single match to advance to the final.

He said: "They are U21s and maybe not the best for this tournament. We are not asking them to get the title but through the tournament, we will find players for the U23 team that will compete at the 31st SEA Games. And these U21s will represent Vietnam at the 32nd Games in Cambodia in 2023."

Vietnam will play their first match against Singapore on February 19 at the Prince Stadium in Phnom Penh.

"We will also watch the match between Singapore and Thailand (on February 16) and try to understand their playing style and find their weak points. And then, we will have suitable tactics against both of them," Nam said.

Defender Dung Quang Nho also is hoping to last as long as possible in the tournament and play in the final.

Nam added: "Vietnam Football Federation does not expect for us to win this championship. But we have still worked really hard without Tết holiday rest. We aim to play our best in all matches before going home." 

Speaking at the briefing on February 13, Thailand coach Salvador Garcia noted that his team, which includes players from the U19 squad, were at their best after weeks of training. 

Garcia said the tournament would be a good chance for the youngsters who hope to advance to the knockout stage.

He added that they would first focus on the Singapore match before analysing Vietnam for the next match.

Coach Nazri Nasir of Singapore said his team is in tough group. He is missing some of their best players who could not join the team due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But Singapore prepared well for this event which is a warm-up of the SEA Games in May.

Prior to the briefing, organisers announced defending champion Indonesia withdrew from the tournament because of the COVID-19 and injury problems.

Football Association of Indonesia confirmed the decision not to participate after seven players and one team official tested positive for coronavirus, with another four members of the squad at risk after being in close contact from sharing rooms.

In addition, three other players -- Gunansar Mandowen, Ramai Rumakiek and Muhammad Iqbal -- were already injury doubts heading into the tournament.

Earlier, coach Brad Maloney of Malaysia said his defender Muhammad Safwan Mazlan would miss the first match against Myanmar on February 15 because of a positive test result.

Vietnam landed in Phnom Penh with 27 players who all tested negative.

Another Vietnamese to work in Cambodia is referee Ngo Duy Lan.

Lan, 37, is one of three FIFA-leveled officials of Vietnam and the only one who reached the elite certificate, the highest stage in referee ranking.

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