Vietnam stake claim for football gold
Led by the irrepressible Cong Phuong, Vietnam turn in a five-star display
(Mac Hong Quan 15-pen, Nguyen Cong Phuong 45+1, 53, Vo Huy Toan 47-pen, Nguyen Van Toan 80)
(Syahrul Azwari Ibrahim 78)
They destroyed Brunei 6-0 in their opening South-east Asia (SEA) Games encounter, to reinforce the belief there were potential challengers to Thailand for the football gold medal.
But some critics pointed to the obvious gulf in class with the Bruneians, insisting that last night's clash with Malaysia would be a truer test of Vietnam's abilities.
And Toshiya Miura's men emphatically gave the answer at Bishan Stadium, passing the test with flying colours in a 5-1 rout in front of close to 3,000 fans, the largest turnout at the location since the Under-23 football competition began on May 29.
A hopeless Malaysian side were simply brushed away by Vietnam's red tide and, while happy, Miura did not want to get carried away.
"We started well and got the early goal that we needed. That was important," the Japanese coach said.
"But I wouldn't say that we are favourites, or even joint-favourites now.
"As it stands, Thailand are still at the top of the pile. They are still the team to beat."
Vietnam thought they'd taken the lead in the 11th minute, when Nguyen Cong Phuong expertly played a through- ball to Vo Huy Toan, but the striker was flagged offside.
Three minutes later, Cong Phuong was tripped in the box by Saiful Ridzwan and Mac Hong Quan scored from the resultant spot-kick.
Just before half-time, Cong Phuong slotted in a second.
Malaysia conceded yet another penalty just after the break when goalkeeper Farhan Abu Bakar floored the busy Cong Phuong.
Huy Toan easily made it 3-0.
The pick of the night was inevitably left to star man Cong Phuong, who swung in a free-kick that swerved in the air and dipped right under the crossbar, topping off his night with two goals and two penalties won.
Syahrul Azwari Ibrahim pulled back a consolation goal in the 78th minute, but substitute Nguyen Van Toan proceeded to score the fifth to put the cherry on the cake for the Vietnamese.
Malaysia coach Ong Kim Swee conceded that the loss was their own doing.
He said at the post-match press conference: "When you don't play well, you lose. Simple.
"We conceded two penalties, and at least two of the other goals came about courtesy of our own mistakes.
"The next match against Thailand (tomorrow) will be the last throw of the dice for us. If we don't win, we're as good as out."
"Of course, credit has to go to Vietnam. They were fast and clinical, and we paid for it," he added.
Miura offered some words of consolation for his fallen rival, and also stressed the importance of last night's win.
He said "I think our win was partly fortunate, because Malaysia didn't play that badly.
"It was all about individual errors, and it certainly wasn't down to the tactics applied by the Malaysian coach.
"But I have to say, today's game was very important for us.
"It proved that we are good enough to put on a good display against a very good team like Malaysia, and even then, it wasn't as easy as it looked.
"Credit has to go to the fans, who filled up the stadium with red and really pushed us on.
"Thank you so much."