|Vietnam out of U23 Asian Cup after losing to Saudi Arabia (Photo: VNA)
Hanoi - Vietnam's journey to AFC U23 Asian Cup glory ended on June 12 at the quarter-final stage, after a 0-2 loss to Saudi Arabia.
Gong Oh-kyun's team surprised many by having more chances than their opponent, most notably with Le Minh Binh's long range effort that hit the woodwork.
A distracted Vietnamese defence gave away the opening goal to Moteb Al-Harbi just before the break, and Firas Al-Buraikan doubled The Green Falcons' lead in the 65th minute. Vietnam were later down to ten men after goalkeeper Quan Van Chuan was shown the red card.
Coach Gong again heavily rotated the squad, replacing all five midfielders who started the match against Malaysia. In the starting line-up, six players are under the age of 21, and can participate in the next edition of the cup.
The golden star warriors, like most of their matches before in this tournament, made some high pressing plays in the opening minutes of the match, searching for an early opener.
Binh had the first chance in the second minute, when Khuat Van Khang's cross from the left wing met him at the far post. The midfielder's header was tame and clutched easily by keeper Nawaf Al-Aqidi.
In the 25th minute, a great pass from Vu Tien Long found Khang, who rebounded the ball for Nham Manh Dung to fire from just outside the box but his effort was just wide of the post.
Khang was instrumental in Vietnam's play, as the midfielder participated in all their good chances in the first half. His effort in the 35th minute created space for Binh to shoot from range, but Al-Aqidi was able to get his hand to it and tipped the ball over the bar to Binh's sheer disbelief.
Only six minutes later, a distraction caused by Al-Buraikan's injury in Vietnam's box allowed fullback Al-Harbi to puncture the Vietnamese defence and shoot in at the far post for Saudi Arabia's opening goal. Although having less shots on target, the men in white got the only goal of the first half delivering a mental blow to Vietnam going into the break.
Vietnam had to go all-out attack in the second half searching for the equaliser, but Saudi Arabia kept their cool and patiently waited for their chance. In the 65th minute, it was Al-Harbi again who crossed to an unmarked Al-Buraikan inside the box who made it 2-0.
The men in red could not get a shot at Al-Aqidi's goal in the second half, as the methodical Saudis kept possession and did not allow Vietnam to play, despite Coach Gong bringing on more attackers.
In the 78th minute, keeper Quan Van Chuan, who had been Vietnam's hero throughout the tournament, went out of his box to clear the ball, but fouled Al-Buraikan in the process. The Japanese referee brandished a red card straight away, and although VAR intervened because Chuan seemed get to to the ball first, the decision was not overturned.
As Vietnam have used up all of their substitutions, striker Nham Manh Dung was forced to play as goalkeeper in the last ten minutes. Dung surprisingly kept a clean sheet in the remaining part of the game and the match ended 2-0 to Saudi Arabia.
With this result, Vietnam are out of the AFC U23 Asian Cup at the quarter-final stage, still their second-best result ever in the tournament. Saudi Arabia will face Australia on June 15 in the semis.
Vietnam under-23s and Coach Gong will return to action in 2023 at the 32nd SEA Games in Cambodia, as the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou, China was postponed to an unknown date.
Although they cannot equal 2018's miraculous run by their senior squad, Vietnam's display at this tournament showed great progress and a modern, different style of play that is needed for Vietnamese football to further progress continentally.