Cong Vinh expected to lead Vietnam to victory over Azkals
Former champions Vietnam need just one point from their Group A match against the Philippines on Friday to secure a place in the final four of the AFF Suzuki Cup.
It is a far cry from their surprise exit from the last edition of the tournament in 2012 and striker Le Cong Vinh, whose injury-time header famously won the 2008 edition for Vietnam, may be the Red Jersey's hero once again.
The prolific striker has scored one goal apiece in Vietnam's two matches - a sensational strike in their opener against Indonesia and a poacher's effort against Laos.
It took his AFF Championships tally to 11 and the all-time leading scorer of Vietnamese football needs one just more goal to draw level with Asean legends Bambang Pamungkas of Indonesia and Thailand’s Kiatiusk Senamuang.
While Vinh's status has brought along close scrutiny on his performances in his home country, Vietnam coach Toshiya Miura constantly defends his star player from criticism.
Vietnam forward Le Cong Vinh leads an attack through two Laos players during an AFF Suzuki 2014 Cup football match at Hanoi's My Dinh stadium on November 25, 2014.. Photo: AFP
The Japanese said: “I think he played very well against Laos. (In the) first half, only he knew where the weak spots were in their defence.
"He also made chances and scored a goal. I think for a striker that is good. It does not make sense to complain about him."
Although Vietnam are three points ahead of Indonesia and hold a seven-goal advantage in Group A, Miura is not thinking about playing it safe or losing against the Philippines even though they could still lose the match and qualify for the semi-finals.
He said: "I expect a good game and to win the game.
"First game and second game, in my opinion, I fielded the 11 best players.
"It is a big tournament so of course I want to bring the best player to make the semi-finals."
Vietnam's passage into the final four could be made easier if Philippines head coach Thomas Dooley opts to rest some of his star players.
The American said: "Obviously we would like to win the group stage so that we can have an advantage in the semi-final (playing second leg at home) but also I would like to rest a couple of players.
"It is difficult - I will make a decision tomorrow after talking to a couple of players about how they feel. I always like to start with the best team, and right now that is what I am thinking of doing.
"But the final decision will be made tomorrow."
The Philippines will be without defender Juan Guirado (pulled muscle) and striker Patrick Reichelt (twisted knee) while and Vietnamese goalkeeper Tran Nguyen Manh could be ruled out with a nose injury.
Source: AFF Suzuki Cup official website