Football commentator Steve Darby: Vietnam narrowing the gap with major teams

ESPN soccer commentator Steve Darby said Vietnam is narrowing the gap with major teams after saw the Asia's World Cup preliminaries match between the Golden Star Warriors and Australia.
September 08, 2021 | 07:47
Football commentator Steve Darby: Vietnam narrowing the gap with major teams
Vietnam's midfielder Nguyen Quang Hai (in red) dribbles the ball. Photo: Viet Linh/Zing News

The Sep.7 performance against Australia is a sign that the Vietnamese team no longer easily suffers from big defeats against the top football players in the continent, said Steve Darby, former coach of Vietnam's women's team who has worked in Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore.

Steve Darby was a former coach of the Vietnamese women's team that won gold medal at the 2001 SEA Games. After that, the British coach led the men's football team of Thailand, U23 Thailand, Laos.

After the match between Vietnam and Australia in the third qualifying round of the 2022 World Cup, Darby sent Zing his assessment.

"It's sad to see an empty national stadium. An empty My Dinh stadium is far from the usual atmosphere when the Vietnamese national team plays. With a football field full of spectators, always screaming in every strikes of the Vietnamese team, things might be different," he wrote.

Small details make a difference

This is the first match that the video assistant referees (VAR) system has been applied at the Hanoi-based stadium. Spectators were not allowed due to Covid-19 restriction measures.

In addition to the lack of advantage from the home crowd's cheers, coach Park Hang-Seo's team also played on the poor side of the pitch.

The English coach partly blames those who run the game. "I think that the two-year period without holding a nation-level football team made the stadium organizers not well prepared. It's a pity because a nice field would benefit the Vietnamese team, who, in my opinion, were technically more skilful than Australia."

The playing style of the Vietnamese team will be smoother if the quality of My Dinh field is improved, he added that small details like the pitch make all the difference.

The situation of Vietnam's midfielder Nguyen Quang Hai having a chance in the 6th minute is typical example for that. He could have shot on goal, instead of in the air if the pitch was better. The game situation can go in a completely different direction, if the score is 1-0 after Quang Hai's finishing strike, Darby commented.

According to him, the team in red started the match as usual. They played deep defensively with a 5-4-1 formation, pressing the area and trying to seal the holes at home.

The key to this match lies in the fact that Vietnam tries to avoid a penalty, which will lead to set-pieces for Australia. The Australian team is very strong in fixed situations and in the air. Centre-back Harry Souttar has a height of up to 1.98 m and is like a "giant" on the field. Accompanying him is not easy.

The Vietnamese players played well and followed the guidelines set by head coach Park. However, the details decided the game, Darby stressed that the situation between Vietnam’s midfielder Nguyen Phong Hong Duy and the Australian defender in the first half, must have been a situation to blow a penalty for Vietnam.

The VAR team has asked the referee to review, and normally, when the referees have to rewatch the slow motion replay, they would do that. Darby also felt it is a situation that can blow a penalty for Vietnam. It is sad when the referee of the game waved his hand and said no. The Vietnamese team was unlucky to not win a penalty that could have seen them take a 1-0 lead.

Football commentator Steve Darby: Vietnam narrowing the gap with major teams
After a VAR review, the referee refused to give Vietnam a penalty kick after an Australian player attempted to block a shot from Vietnam’s midfielder Nguyen Phong Hong Duy. Photo: Viet Linh/Zing News

Vietnam team is not inferior to Australia

Vietnam team played hard and created a not bad match, Darby said. However, only a moment of lack of concentration caused the home team to concede a goal. Consecutive small errors in the defense at the end of the first half cost the Vietnamese team. That goal made all the original plans of coach Park bankrupt.

The way the Vietnamese defense breaks the ball after the opponent's cross is not good. The Socceroos did not create much pressure in that phase. The biggest mistake of the Vietnamese defense came later, when their midfielders did not see the Australian full-back rise to break the offside trap.

"That is a serious mistake. Vietnamese players only look at the ball without observing what is happening on the field as a whole. It was a mistake that stemmed from not being able to play against high-level opponents often."

You can make such a mistake in the V.League and will not concede a goal. But if you play in the J1 League, that mistake will cost yours a goal. Goalkeeper Dang Van Lam was, of course, not innocent in that situation. He should have rushed out sooner. That slow act made Van Lam almost helpless in front of the Australian player.

In the second half, Vietnam had to change tactics. They pressed the opponent more, when head coach Park began to made changes. However, the problem with the Vietnamese team was that every time they have the ball, the Australian players always easily won in disputes, especially in high-ball situations.

"When the Vietnamese team went for short passes and used breakthrough individual techniques, things looked better. But as I have analyzed, the pitch is not good, making short passes and handling phases of the home team difficult. Vietnam's best chance probably came from a long-range shot in the 60th minute."

Football commentator Steve Darby: Vietnam narrowing the gap with major teams
Australian defender Rhyan Grant Rhyan Grant scores the winner two minutes before half-time when Ajdin Hrustic's ball swing over the Vietnamese defence and the unmarked Sydney FC defender headed across Dang Van Lam and into the corner. Photo: Viet Linh/Zing News

Vietnam on the right track for the 2026 World Cup dream

Another highlight that Darby also wanted to mention is Quang Hai. He is an outstanding star of Southeast Asian football, but clearly still needs more improvement.

In the match against Australia, Quang Hai had many difficulties when facing opponents who were superior in strength and physique, Darby highlighted, adding that he appreciates the Vietnamese defensive players.

In the article, Darby concluded: "Perhaps the next step for Vietnam to become stronger lies in improving the domestic league. V.League needs more purity and quality. The pitches in the national championship systems need to be renovated to a better standard."

The quality of V.League's foreign players must also be improved, he added. Top stars like Quang Hai have to play abroad. Even if they don't really succeed in their new environment, they will improve and become more resilient.

"I'm still optimistic with the final 0-1 loss of the Vietnamese team. This match shows that the Vietnamese team is closing the gap with the big football teams of the continent, and possibly the world."

Vietnam is no longer a team that easily loses to stronger teams like Australia or Japan. Vietnam is on the right track for the goal of attending the 2026 World Cup, Darby said.

Vietnam are to face China at a neutral venue on Oct. 7.

They were defeated 1-3 by Saudi Arabia in the previous match of the qualifiers’ final round held on Sep. 3 (Vietnam time).

This is the first time Vietnam have ever played in such a round of World Cup qualifiers. They are in Group B along with Japan, Australia, Saudi Arabia, China and Oman for a spot at the 2022 Qatar World Cup.

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