Vietnam’s last group match at the ongoing AFC U-23 Championship in Qatar could well be the final nail in the coffin of Toshiya Miura’s tenure as national coach, as he has led the team through a winless run that has exhausted supporters’ patience.
Vietnam will play the UAE in their last group match on Wednesday night, after being beaten 1-3 and 0-2 by Jordan and Australia in their first two games, eliminating the team from the tournament.
Miura’s two-year contract with Vietnam football, which has him in charge of both the national and U-23 squads, is up this April but it is expected he will not have to wait that long before it is terminated.
With only one game left in Qatar, the 53-year-old is under huge pressure from fans in Vietnam thanks to the lifeless performances of the team.
If Miura’s contract is concluded early however, it will not be based solely on the U23 team's lackluster performance in this championship.
In terms of FIFA rankings, Vietnam are a long way behind their group stage rivals, and it could be said that these kinds of results were anticipated.
On the list published on January 6 by the game's governing body, Vietnam ranked 146th while Australia were 59th, UAE 64th and Jordan 86th respectively
Is it the end for Miura?
Fans and experts have criticized the Japanese coach for failing to find a ‘fixed’ formation for both teams, saying he “uses a brand new formation for every match.”
It was with these tactics however that Miura earned praise from Vietnamese fans when he took the hot seat in May 2014.
Other critics point to Miura being too conservative, suggesting that he continually asks his men to play tough, even against Western countries with players of superior physical shape and strength.
The defeat against Jordan and Australia proved it, say fans. Many considered the results ‘loss by default’ with Vietnamese players forced to compete on speed and strength against stronger, bigger opponents.
The Vietnamese U-23 team include many players graduating from an academy supported by the Arsenal Football Club, whose style of play focuses on technique rather than muscular strength.
Despite this, Miura preferred not to employ their technical ability, and instead asked them to use their muscle, making them look like ‘fish out of water’ during the games.
In the game against Australia on Sunday, when Miura finally agreed to allow his players to employ a more technical style of play in the second half, the team performed better.
Unfortunately, it was too late to make a difference, and cemented the argument that Miura is wrong in thinking that Vietnamese teams can win while using a ‘muscular’ style of game.
Coach Le Huynh Duc, Vietnam’s No.1 striker back in the 1990s, confirmed that Miura prefers players who like using their muscles.
“As a member of the national football coaching panel, I once talked to Miura, when he asked us to help him find the best players for the team,” Duc said.
Duc then asked Miura what style of play he would apply to the team, and was shocked to be told that “[Miura] only [likes] those with strength and an aggression,” he recalled.
“He also said he would use his own ‘football philosophy,’ implying that it was none of my business to ask him about it.
“Miura’s rigid and conservative leadership over the last two years has not proved suitable for Vietnamese football.”
Miura was in the public eye in September 2015, following several matches where Vietnamese players were strongly criticized for playing violent football.
Surviving that storm of criticism, he continued to carry the country’s hopes into the AFC U-23 Championship this month, where he promised to take the team to the quarterfinals.
However time is running out for Miura as Vietnamese football fans desperately want a new coach for their beloved team, even if some sections of the public remain skeptical about whether Miura’s successor could do any better.
Vietnam’s football governing body, VFF, is currently experiencing an internal crisis, with its top officials criticizing each other and neglecting their real duties.
It has been suggested that the VFF appointed Miura without consensus from its members, and against the advice of experts and industry insiders.