|Nguyen Quang Hai (in red) is one of the frequent faces in Vietnam starting line. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Dong
Vietnam’s performance in the group stage of AFF Suzuki Cup 2018, with three wins, one draw and no goals conceded, has been applauded by several Asian newspapers and commentators.
Fox Sports Asia said Vietnam’s 3-0 victory against Cambodia was their best in AFF Cup 2018 so far.
"The game was dominated by the home team while Cambodia was more reliant on counterattacks. When the match ended, Vietnam was able to frustrate the visitors with a 3-0 win," Indonesian sports newspaper Okezone Bola commented.
"Park Hang-seo magic has enthused Hanoi three times this year, and the third time, he helped Vietnam top group A and qualify for the semifinals," wrote South Korean newspaper Joong Ilbo.
Vietnam stands second in the number of goals scored thus far, with eight against Thailand’s 12. But Vietnam is the only team that hasn’t conceded any goal in four matches.
Fox Sports Asia said Vietnam’s strongest asset is their impenetrable backline.
"That three-man fortress of captain Que Ngoc Hai, Tran Dinh Trong and Do Duy Manh have been an ever reliable defense for head coach Park Hang-seo and for the four games running at a total of at least 360 minutes, the Golden Dragons are still immaculate in terms of keeping their cleansheet... clean," the site said.
South Korean football site InterFootball also praised Vietnam’s defense: "Park Hang-seo and the team go to the semi-finals with three wins, one draw and no goal conceded after four games. They are a real contender for becoming the AFF Cup champion this year."
Another South Korean news agency, Newsis, was impressed with Vietnam’s clean sheet.
"Vietnam has the right to be proud as they haven’t conceded any goal in the past four games. They are the only team that are still keeping a clean sheet at the AFF Cup this year."
Newsis also said Vietnam has the ability to bring another AFF Cup title home after 10 years of waiting.
Ghosts of the past
Vietnam will clash the Philippines in the first leg of the semi-finals on December 2 at the Panaad Stadium in Bacolod, the Philippines. Rappler, a Philippines based news site, considered Vietnam as a "very tough assignment" for the Azkals (nickname for the Philippines national football team).
"This is a young core with some tried and tested veterans. They have already tasted success at the greater Asian level. They are obviously doing something right," the site wrote.
But Rappler also stayed hopeful, with their sports writer Bob Guerrero pointing out Vietnam’s failures in previous AFF Cup editions.
"Vietnam is saddled with past AFF Cup baggage. Its home ground, My Dinh stadium, might as well celebrate Halloween every day of the year. That is how many ghosts reside in that venue from past tournaments. Will they finally be exorcised in 2018?" he wrote
The Philippines beat them there in 2010. Four years later, Malaysia overturned the second leg in My Dinh, eliminating the home side. Two years later Indonesia won 2-2 in Hanoi in the second leg, taking a 4-3 aggregate victory into the finals.
"Should Vietnam suffer yet another My Dinh Meltdown this time around or should it just burn the joint down rather than play another game there?" he said.
The second leg of the AFF Cup 2018 will kick off on December 6, four days after the first leg. The match will take place on Vietnam’s home ground, My Dinh National Stadium, Hanoi.