Vietnam showcased numerous changes during their 2-0 victory over the Philippines at Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila in their opening match in the Asian second qualification round for the 2026 FIFA World Cup on Thursday.
Facing the familiar opponents, the Vietnamese team displayed several encouraging aspects in contrast to their recent friendly matches.
While it could be attributed to the Philippine team’s relatively unimpressive play, another plausible explanation lies in the notable alterations to Vietnam’s playing style.
Overall, Vietnam’s manager Philippe Troussier had his team commit to the ball control philosophy, a principle he has diligently instilled, throughout Thursday’s away game.
For a surprise element, the French coach deviated from the style of play without a target striker, opting to start striker Nguyen Tien Linh.
Although Linh did not particularly stand out in comparison to his two teammates Nguyen Van Toan and Pham Tuan Hai, his adept positioning and movement as a genuine striker created valuable space for the latter, enabling them to launch dangerous attacks in the opponents’ penalty area.
Notably, Toan’s opening goal in the 16th minute originated from such a well-orchestrated situation.
In contrast to previous matches, the Vietnamese team demonstrated improved cohesion and fluidity in coordinating their attacks.
Regrettably, Troussier’s squad grappled with their finishing ability, as they let several scoring opportunities slip away.
A young line-up
Troussier appeared to strategically sandbag, opting to field several young players.
In midfield, he experimented with the duo of Nguyen Tuan Anh and Nguyen Thai Son, a deviation from the usual choices of Do Hung Dung and Nguyen Hoang Duc.
While this midfield pairing proved strong enough to overpower the Philippines, it raises uncertainties about how they might fare against more formidable opponents such as Iraq, whom they will host at My Dinh Stadium in Hanoi on November 21.
In defense, Troussier preferred Phan Tuan Tai, Bui Hoang Viet Anh, and Nguyen Thanh Binh to more experienced players.
However, this defensive trio did not perform well and lacked the necessary solidity.
The subdued performance of the Philippines’ strikers helped secure Dang Van Lam’s goal.
No doubt, Troussier has additional tasks on hand to reinforce the defense wall in preparation for the upcoming great challenge against Iraq.
In summary, the Frenchman's success in the match against the Philippines went beyond the 2-0 victory, with particular emphasis on the impressive performance of the young players.
Phan Tuan Tai, Vo Minh Trong, and Nguyen Thai Son showcased excellent flair, with the striking shots from Tai and Trong leaving a lasting impact on fans.
Even the substitutes, including Ho Van Cuong, Nguyen Van Tung, and Nguyen Dinh Bac, exceeded expectations.
Notably, Bac sealed Vietnam’s 2-0 triumph with a confident long-range shot in the fourth injury minute.
While some may find the score less than fully satisfying, Troussier achieved multiple objectives in Thursday’s game -- securing maximum points, preserving the team’s personnel, concealing his strategy, and providing young players with valuable opportunities to exhibit their talent.
In his post-match comment, Troussier said he was pleased with the team’s determination and heightened awareness of tactical discipline.
The manager was confident that if his team successfully capitalized on the numerous opportunities created during the game, they could have secured an earlier second goal.
The second round of the 2026 World Cup qualification in Asia comprises 36 teams, organized into nine groups, each consisting of four teams. These teams will compete in home-and-away matches from November 2023 to June 2024.
The winners and runners-up in each group will progress to the third round and secure automatic qualification for the 2027 Asian Cup finals.
In the third round, the 18 qualifying teams will be divided into three groups of six teams each.
The winners and runners-up from each group will earn direct qualification for the 2026 FIFA World Cup finals in Canada, Mexico, and the United States.