Vietnamese coach plays down team's chances
But Vietnamese Under-23s could well set down a marker as football gets underway
BRUNEI v VIETNAM
(Today, 4pm, Bishan Stadium)
The wait is finally over and the football tournament at the 2015 South-east Asia (SEA) Games will get underway at the Bishan Stadium today, when the Vietnam's Under-23s take on Brunei's U-23s in Group B.
The clash appears to be a mismatch, given the Vietnamese are rated as gold-medal contenders, while Brunei have reached the last four only once, back in 1983.
Vietnam's Japanese coach, Toshiya Miura, though, was coy over his team's prospects yesterday.
When asked if he agreed Vietnam were one of the favourites to win it all, Miura replied with a smirk: "That's the first time I've heard of us being a real threat.
"I don't know why people would think we're such a strong team.
"We've never won the gold medal (as Vietnam) and we didn't even qualify for the final at last year's AFF Suzuki Cup."
While he was keen to play down his side's chances, Miura does have an impressive squad at his disposal.
The likes of defender Que Ngoc Hai, playmaker Vo Huy Toan and striker Mac Hong Quan were all in the side that reached the last four in the 2014 Suzuki Cup, while experienced campaigners Nguyen Huy Hung and Tran Phi Son are also expected to play prominent roles.
Vietnam have also played against some quality opposition in warm-up friendlies recently, something Miura believes could be a crucial factor.
"Our preparation was good and we played against opponents in South Korea, Myanmar, North Korea and Thailand," he said.
"My players may be young, but many of them have already played in big matches like Olympic qualifiers and in the Suzuki Cup with the senior team.
"I'm not worried that they will be unable to rise to the occasion.
"There are only five games for us in the group stage, so it's crucial for all the teams not to make mistakes.
"We will try to qualify for the semi-finals and the first game is very important."
Even the most patriotic Brunei fan will be expecting their U-23s to challenge for a top-two spot in the group and a place in the semi-finals.
But Brunei coach Stephen Ng, a former Singapore international, has challenged his men to prove they are no pushovers.
He told The New Paper: "We have prepared well and our approach is simple… Our focus is on the level of our performance and we believe we can compete.
"We definitely want to aim high and achieve something, but we must also look at where we are right now.
"Although we have made good strides in the last two years, there's still some catching up to do on the neighbouring countries.
"We want to be competitive and see how far the gap is between the other teams that we have to breach.
"But if the players perform to expectations, there's no reason why we won't be taking points off the bigger teams."