|Vietnamese players train at the Zhejiang University of Finance & Economics East Athletics' Stadium on September 17 in Hangzhou, China. Vietnam will play Mongolia in the Group B opener on September 19. (Photo: Vietnam Football Federation) |
Hanoi - Vietnamese players have been preparing well in both terms of physique and spirit for the tough 19th Asian Games (ASIAD) tournament in Hangzhou, China, with the first match against Mongolia.
The Vietnamese team will play Mongolia on September 19, followed by matches against Iran on September 21 and Saudi Arabia three days later in Group B.
While Mongolia are much lower than Vietnam, No 95, in the world ranking, Saudi and Iran are among the strongest teams in Asia.
The Vietnamese players arrived in Hangzhou on September 17 and they had first training for the tournament at the Zhejiang University of Finance & Economics East Athletics' Stadium.
"We had a long tired journey from Hanoi to Hangzhou but we are enjoying the hotel's facility, delicious food and cool weather," said coach Hoang Anh Tuan.
"My players have experienced an international competition environment after taking part in the 2024 Asian championship qualifier and the FIFA Days' match. Now, what we do is to remind them about the meaning and importance of this tournament.
"In addition to the profession, we have to support players' mentality, a job that we have done since the AFF U23 Championship last month.
"In such a short period, we can't do everything perfectly. Our coaching board knows that and we will flexibly fix our problems. In my opinion, my players are in good fitness and the best spirits. They are ready for this challenge."
Tuan brought to China 22 players, 17 of them are under 21 and two are over 23. At an average of 20.3 years old, Vietnam are the youngest team among four Southeast Asian sides qualified for the Games.
Asked about the first rivals, Tuan, who guided Vietnam to the 2017 U20 World Cup, said Mongolia, world No. 183, were the weakest team in the group but he actually could not evaluate their real power. He just requested players to be focused. A win over them would give Vietnam a better chance to advance to the next round.
The Mongolian team mainly includes players who competed in the Asian qualifier last month. Their best known is midfielder Tsogtbayar Batbayar who is competing for Leutschach FC in Austria.
In the Asian qualifier, Mongolia failed to progress from the group stage after two losses and one draw.
The second rival of Vietnam is world No. 22 Iran who are strong in both fitness and technique along with good body stature.
After the Asian qualification defeat, Iran made a big change in their line-up to ASIAD. Only seven players of the former team remained.
Coach Reza Enayati called up many players including regular members of the national senior team such as midfielders Yasin Salmani and Mohammad Khodabandelo and defender Saman Falah.
He also added two over-23 players, forward Arsalan Motahari and goalkeeper Hossein Hosseini.
Motahari has played more than 100 matches in the domestic league while Hosseini has been capped by the national team nine times. He played at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Saudi Arabia, world No. 54, came to China with the target of a trophy. The best players have been selected and prepared for the tournament for six months.
The team made an impressive performance at the Asian qualifier that gave them a place in the finals where they will defend their title.
Among their highlights is forward Khalil Nasser who plays for Al Nassr FC. In the same front line as super star Cristiano Ronaldo, he scored three goals last season.
Other notable players are midfielders Yahya Salem, Saad Al-Nasser, Musab Al-Juwayr and forward Abdullah Radif.
In the previous ASIAD in 2018 in Indonesia, Mongolia did not compete. Iran were eliminated from the round of 16. Saudi Arabia were ousted in the quarter-finals. Vietnam made the semi-finals, their best-ever result in history.