|Striker Nguyen Tien Linh (in red) is surrounded by Jordani players during an AFC U23 Championship match in Thailand, January 13, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Lam Thoa.
After two blank draws against UAE and Jordan, Vietnam are temporarily ranked third in group D with zero goals scored or conceded. They are now the only team unbeaten in AFC U23. But they are also the only team to have not scored any goal.
Vietnam are on two points, while UAE and Jordan are on four each. Results after two games place Vietnam in a hard place, facing a disadvantage winning one of the two quarterfinal slots.
In the final group stage match Thursday night, Vietnam have no choice but to beat the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) while waiting for the remaining match between UAE and Jordan to end in their favor. Of course, if Vietnam cannot win their last group stage match, they will definitely be eliminated regardless of the other match outcome. But, in case they win, the team will enter the quarterfinals in the following scenarios:
- Vietnam beat the DPRK and UAE or Jordan win the other match.
- Vietnam beat the DPRK with a margin of two goals or above and UAE draw with Jordan 0-0. (Vietnam will advance by having better goal difference than Jordan.)
- Vietnam beat the DPRK with one-goal margin but score three goals or more and UAE draw with Jordan 0-0. (Vietnam will have the same goal difference as Jordan but score more goals.)
- Vietnam beat the DPRK 2-1 and UAE draw with Jordan 0-0. With this result, Vietnam will have the same goal difference and number of goals as Jordan, but will progress thanks to having received fewer yellow cards than Jordan.
However, if Vietnam scores 1-0 over the DPRK and the other match ends 0-0, the team will still be eliminated although it has the same goal difference as Jordan due to scoring fewer goals.
According to Asian Football Confederation regulations, the head to head factor will be considered above goal difference, which means that if UAE and Jordan draw with a score other than 0-0, Vietnam will be out.
In short, Vietnam still have hope of advancing if any of the four possibilities above occurs. Their mission in the last match is to win and try to score as many goals as possible.
Vietnam's captain Nguyen Quang Hai said his team will have to improve their finishing.
"Our players need to be determined, confident and create a lot of shots to score," said Hai, a midfielder who usually has to cover the frontline as well.
The DPRK have lost both previous group stage matches, but Hai said they should not be underestimated. "Their strength is solidarity, which means Vietnam need to stay focused."
Both matches in the final fixture of group D will occur at the same time, 8:15 p.m. on January 16. Park Hang-seo's players will face the DPRK at Rajamangala Stadium in Bangkok while UAE clash with Jordan at Chang Arena Stadium in Buriram.