Friday, 03/09/2021 06:26

Early hopes cruelly dashed as Việt Nam lose to Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia put the Vietnamese defence under immense pressure throughout the match. Photo

 Peter Cowan

HÀ NỘI – It’s the hope that kills you.

For just over an hour in Riyadh early Friday morning, Việt Nam had hope they could pull off a famous victory against Saudi Arabia, thanks to a sumptuous Nguyễn Quang Hải goal.

The pint-sized playmaker fizzed an unstoppable drive past Saudi goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais just three minutes into his country’s debut in the third round of World Cup qualifying, giving hope they could write yet more history.

It wasn’t to be though and all hope was dashed in a cruel sequence of events early in the second half, when after a lengthy VAR review, defender Đỗ Duy Mạnh was adjudged to have handled the ball in his own penalty area when blocking a shot from Saudi captain Salman Al-Faraj.

The decision turned the game on its head, as Mạnh received his second yellow card and Việt Nam found themselves a man down and on level terms after Salem Al-Dawsari slotted home the penalty.

While probably a correct decision by the letter of the law, the red card was cruel for Mạnh, who had put in a stellar performance with several brave, last-ditch tackles up until that 55th minute incident.

From that point on Saudi Arabia cruised home, adding further goals through a towering header from Yasser Al-Shahrani after 67 minutes, before a second penalty from Saleh Al-Shehri 13 minutes later made the game safe. Al-Shehri’s Panenka finish merely added salt to the wound.

The away side had started so well at King Saud University Stadium thanks to Hải’s powerful finish from the edge of the box after a poor clearance from Saudi defender Abdulelah Al-Amri teed his wand of a left boot up perfectly.

As they so often do under South Korean tactician Park Hang-seo, the Vietnamese then set out their stall to defend and play on the counter, ceding the midfield to the Saudis in hopes of packing the defence.

The home side had several chances in the first half but some composed saves from Bùi Tấn Trường and committed defending from Mạnh and Quế Ngọc Hải kept them at bay.

Việt Nam should have doubled their lead in the 38th minute when Vũ Văn Thanh found Nguyễn Tiến Linh in acres of space on the counter, but the striker was unable to get the ball out of his feet to play Phan Văn Đức through on goal.

After the break and the sending off the Vietnamese team struggled to lay a glove on the home side, the man advantage, the desert heat and their lack of competitive action due to the COVID-19 pandemic all sapping their energy.

Indeed, Linh’s wasted opportunity in the first half turned out to be Viet Nam’s final sniff of the Saudi goal as they fell to a cruel 3-1 defeat in their opening Group B encounter.

They next face Australia at home in Hà Nội on Tuesday night in what is sure to be another backs against the wall encounter against one of Asian football’s heavyweights. VNS

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