HÀ NỘI Việt Nam kicked off their World Cup qualification campaign with a battling goalless draw away to Thailand yesterday.
The best opportunities came early and late, with the away side almost getting off to a dream start, before Thailand nearly snatched all three points at the death.
The game at Thammasat Stadium in the city of Rangsit, just north of Bangkok, was a scrappy affair, and both sides will probably feel they could have come away with all three points.
A mere 15 seconds into the game, Hoàng Anh Gia Lai striker Nguyễn Văn Toàn was played clean through, but he dragged his effort wide of the post.
Thailand, playing in their first game under new Japanese coach Akira Nishino, lined up without a striker and predictably dominated possession with the extra cover in midfield.
However the home side struggled to play with much cutting edge without a target man, and were restricted to a couple of half-chances, Supachok Sarachat coming the closest in the 42nd minute with an effort that flew over the bar, before the two rivals went into the break goalless.
Việt Nam’s South Korean coach Park Hang-seo brought on star striker Nguyễn Công Phượng to start the second half, but the Saint Truidense man looked rusty, having been starved for minutes at the Belgian club since he moved to Europe in the summer.
The Thais came out of the blocks faster in the second period, with Thitiphan Puangchan forcing Vietnamese goalkeeper Đặng Văn Lâm into a save five minutes in.
Toàn had Việt Nam’s best chance in the second half, but he fluffed his lines in the 77th minute after Phượng had played him through over the top, dawdling on the ball and allowing Thailand goalkeeper and captain Siwak Tedsungnoen to smother the ball.
Ten minutes later coach Park was booked for remonstrating with referee Al-Adba Saoud Ali of Qatar over a decision.
By the closing stages Việt Nam seemed happy to settle for an away point and began time-wasting, almost to their ruin.
In the 94th and final minute, Supachok Sarachat broke clear of Việt Nam’s defence and rounded goalkeeper Lâm, but the Vietnamese keeper recovered quickly to leap to his feet and make a smart save a his near post.
The referee blew for full-time seconds later and Vietnamese fans up and down the country blew a sigh of collective relief.
While an away draw is nothing to sniff at, Việt Nam could have perhaps played more adventurously and went for all three points.
Nevertheless, Việt Nam have points on the board and have made the first step in their journey to Qatar 2022. VNS