x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Vietnam coach Hoang van Phuc out to prove his worth against UAE

The new Vietnam coach's rise to the national job mirrors Mahdi Ali's success in the UAE - but he has just two matches to secure the post full-time.

Vietnam national team coach Hoang van Phuc.
Vietnam national team coach Hoang van Phuc.

Just before the moment when UAE head coach Mahdi Ali takes his seat in the away team dugout at the My Dinh Stadium in Hanoi for the start of qualification for the 2015 Asian Cup, he will shake hands with his Vietnamese opposite number and while he may not know it, meet a local version of himself. He could also help ensure that Hoang van Phuc does not last very long in his new post.

After a succession of failures with the national team coaches - mostly foreign - the Vietnam Football Federation (VFF) has given a chance to a man who has guided the country's youth teams to good results.

If Phuc can successfully follow in the footsteps of Ali and integrate the most talented youngsters into the senior set up, then Vietnam will fancy their chances of finishing in the top two of a group that also contains Uzbekistan and Hong Kong and booking a spot in Australia. If not, he could be out on his ear by the end of March.

The national team, the pride of 90 million Vietnamese, may have won the 2008 AFF Suzuki Cup, south-east Asia's version of the Gulf Cup, but crashed out in the first round of the 2012 version in November, failing to win a single game.

Losing to a good Thailand team in Bangkok was nothing to be ashamed of but managing just a single point from games against Philippines and Myanmar, was not considered to be acceptable. Vietnam had looked reasonably good in possession but were defensively poor.

So when Phan Thanh Hung, the first non-caretaker local coach to lead the national team this century and in the post only for a few months, offered his resignation in December, it was accepted by his employers. The federation decided to hand the job to Phuc who had taken the Under 16 team to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) title in 2008 and then repeated the success two years later. He then delivered qualification to the 2011 Asian Cup for the U19 team.

Of late, he has been producing encouraging performances from the U22 side.

"I used to train in the V-League and First Division as well as U16 to U22 teams, but it is the first time I have had the honour of leading the national team. It's a great challenge, but I'm quietly confident," Phuc said last month after his appointment.

There is one crucial difference between Mahdi Ali and his opposite number and that is the fact that Phuc does not exactly have the complete faith of his bosses. Part of the federation is keen to go back to a foreign coach after the failed domestic experiment at the AFF Suzuki Cup.

As a result, he has the job for just two qualifiers - at home to UAE and away in Hong Kong in March. A poor start, and according to those who know about such things that means less than four points, and his senior national team career could be over before it has barely begun.

Phuc has promised a combination of the best from his Under 22 team and the existing stars. such as midfielder and captain Le Tan Tai, one of the few "veterans" sure of a place. Mac Hong Quan is one of the new generation, scoring three goals for the Under 22 team during qualification for the Asian Championships.

The striker plays for Sparta Praha's B team and has been linked with Hertha Berlin though cancelled a trial with the German club to return home for the national team where he scored the winner as a second half substitute for Vietnam against a second tier Korean club on Friday.

Another Czech based new face is Michazl Nguyen, a tall central defender with a Czech father, plays for Banik Most FC.

Seeing a blend of youth and experience, foreign and local knowledge prevail against UAE would be a perfect pick-me-up for fans. Financial problems have seen clubs withdraw from the local league, leaving some national team players scrambling to find clubs for the new season, and with Malaysia and Thailand generally moving in the right direction, there is a feeling that Vietnam is slipping behind the best in south-east Asia.

After reaching the 2007 Asian Cup quarter-finals, albeit helped by home advantage, hopes are not especially high about a return to the continental stage in 2015 after missing out in 2011. Uzbekistan are the favourites with Vietnam expecting to fight it out with UAE for second.

Today's match then, is almost a must-win -a home tie against their closest rivals - and is certainly a must-not-lose. Defeat for Vietnam, not the best of travellers, would almost end the campaign before it starts.

It could also spell the end for the man seeking to follow in the footsteps of Mahdi Ali.



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