Veteran forward Nguyen Anh Duc headed in a stoppage-time winner to give Vietnam a nail-biting 1-0 victory over host Thailand at Chang Arena in Buriram.
Thailand went into the match with strong determination, hoping to avenge its recent defeats to its Vietnamese counterpart at the youth levels (U-19 and U-23). The War Elephants were able to create multiple chances to open up the scoring in the first half despite being dominated by their opposition possession wise. Supachai Jaided (hit the post) and Thitipan Puangchan (wide-volley) both narrowly missed opportunities which would have put the home side ahead at the 18th and 34th minutes respectively.
Following the break, the Thais continued to showcase their eagerness not only to win, but also to reclaim their crown as Southeast Asia Football’s best by increasing pressure on a three-man defense which looked clumsy at certain points, while at the same time, aggressively taking physical challenges. Vietnam’s defensive unit was missing the services of Tran Dinh Trong, who suffered a ligament injury just before the start of the tournament
To help ease the situation and strengthen his team’s attacking power, Vietnam coach Park Hang-seo decided to switch to a 4-4-2 formation, bringing on wing back Nguyen Phong Hong Duy, star forward Nguyen Cong Phuong and ground-familiar Luong Xuan Truong off the bench.
The change proved effective immediately, giving the Golden Dragons their best chances since the beginning of the match, however, both Cong Phuong and reigning AFF Youth Player of the Year Nguyen Quang Hai, who was surprisingly silent for the majority of his playing time, were unable to convert.
With neither team unable to break the scoreless deadlock after 90 minutes, the match was seemingly leaning toward a penalty shootout before Nguyen Anh Duc once again became a national hero for Vietnam. Following a corner in the very last minute of stoppage time, the 33-year-old was able to score a precious goal for his side with a bullet header to secure a thrilling 1-0 victory over a stunned Thailand team.
The win reaffirmed Vietnam’s top-of-the-pack status in Southeast Asia as it came against the region’s second-best team in Thailand, as well as secured the Vietnamese a spot in the 2019 King’s Cup final Saturday, June 8th against Curacao, who defeated India 3-1 earlier the same day.
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