As widely anticipated, Vietnam’s ruthless efficiency under coach Park Hang-seo made Cambodia look limp and listless in a 3-0 defeat at Hanoi’s Hang Day Stadium on Saturday evening. The Golden Dragons head to the semi-finals of the AFF Suzuki Cup as Group A toppers, without conceding a goal in four matches, ahead of Malaysia, who won 3-0 at home to Myanmar in Kuala Lumpur.
Famous as Guus Hiddink’s assistant when Korea finished a historic fourth in the 2002 Fifa World Cup, the 59-year-old Park Hang-seo has been in the job for little over a year but his remarkable ability to harness youth power in the team has completely changed the dynamic and has shaped Vietnam as one of the leading lights, feared by some of the strongest teams not just in the region but in the continent itself.
Last Monday’s 3-1 home win over Laos had restored a modicum of pride for Cambodia after two successive defeats and the sight of the Kingdom’s potent strikers, Chan Vathanaka, Prak Mony Udom and Keo Sokpheng getting onto the scoresheet against Laos was seen as a good omen for at least a reasonably hard fight against Vietnam in the Kingdom’s final group fixture. But it was such an anticlimax.
It is hard to fathom the strategic reasons as to why both Sokpheng, who came on after an hour, and Vathanaka, who hardly had good playing time, were not among the starters.
Yet the Cambodian line-up entrusted by Japan great Kei-suke Honda and his Argentine coach Felix Gonzalez did well to keep the Vietnamese quiet for the first 30 minutes before inevitably the gap in quality became all too apparent.
Vietnam’s dominance was so overpowering that they allowed Cambodia just two shots, one of them on target, while unleashing 20 of their own, a dozen of which were on the mark.
Once Nguyen Tien Linh scored in the 39th minute, it was clear more would quickly follow. Within two minutes Nguyen Quang Hai doubled the lead and midway through the second half Phan Van Duc made it 3-0. But for Um Vichet’s heroics in the Cambodian goal, the scoreline would have looked much worse.
With four clean sheets reflecting their blazing form, Vietnam are firm favourites to win the Suzuki Cup for a second time, their maiden triumph coming in 2008.
Meanwhile Malaysia, making the best of a higher percentage of possession and pass accuracy, outplayed Myanmar in front of cheering crowds at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium, well aware that only a win would guarantee their place in the semi-finals.
With Norshahrul Idlan Talaha giving them a 26th minute lead, Malaysia were bent on keeping the initiative. Zaquan Adha doubled the lead in first-half added time and then came back to drive the last nail in Myanmar’s coffin 12 minutes before the final whistle.