Monday, 11/10/2021 11:05

The Local Game: So near, yet so far

Nguyễn Thanh Bình (right) struggled to keep up with China's Wu Lei (middle) last week. Photo

Peter Cowan

So near, yet so far for Việt Nam and Park Hang-seo.

The national team were on the cusp of a first competitive victory over China late last week, and when Nguyễn Tiến Linh equalised in the 90th minute I was convinced they would kick on to take a famous victory, as all the momentum was with the Vietnamese.

Unfortunately, class told and China’s Wu Lei scored in the 95th minute to seal a 3-2 win and all three points.

The Espanyol man scored twice on the night and for both goals Vietnamese defender Nguyễn Thanh Bình was left trailing in his wake.

It would be unfair to criticise the 20-year-old defender too harshly for failing to keep up with Wu, as after all, the Chinese star plays against the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona week in week out, whereas Bình isn’t even an automatic starter in the V.League 1.

Instead, our criticism should be directly squarely at coach Park.

Bringing Bình on for his second cap in replacement of his club captain Bùi Tiến Dũng and charging him with marking Wu was a baffling decision that I have yet to see a good justification for.

Dũng had been dealing with an injury so may have been unable to continue, though he looks likely to start tomorrow against Oman, so how injured could he have been? In addition, there was a more experienced option available on the bench in Nguyễn Thành Chung.

However, the substitution isn’t what Park deserves criticism for, it’s what he’s done since then.

Yes, the South Korean tactician came out after the match and admitted that making the substitution too early was his fault.

However, actions speak louder than words and Park’s decision to drop Bình from the squad ahead of the Oman match spoke volumes for me.

Bình and fellow senior squad member Lê Xuân Nam will stay in the UAE to link up with U22 squad for a pair of friendlies against Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan before they play AFC U23 Championship qualifiers in the former country, while three other members of the senior team will join them after the Oman match.

Park was so near to taking responsibility for his tactical tinkering, and yet so far from actually doing so.

No matter how anyone tries to explain it, dropping the 20-year-old into the underage squad after the torrid 20 minutes of action he had against China looks like a punishment for Binh, and one that could well dent his confidence severely.

Did Park drop Bình to ensure he wouldn’t be tempted to throw the youngster on again in a tough position? Did he do it in a misguided attempt to protect him from media criticism? Did he do it out of anger over the two costly blunders?

We can only speculate, but let’s hope someone within the national team camp is at least asking him some tough questions.

After four years of unprecedented success it’s easy to forget that Park is in fact fallible, especially when articles about the length of his socks and other trivial nonsense are more common than serious analyses of his tactical decisions in local media.

Lots of us have been guilty of deifying the man now and again (myself included), but I hope for his and Bình’s sake, someone involved with the national team has the guts to tell him he got this one wrong. VNS

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