Vietnam and Thailand entered thair last AFC U23 qualifying match on Tuesday with three centre-backs and two wing-backs, so that they could switch from five defenders to three on offense and switch back to the original formation to defend.
Vietnam played with the 5-1-2-2 and switched to 3-1-4-2 on offense, while Thailand used 5-2-2-1 on defense and 3-2-4-1 when they attacked.
Both Vietnam (red) and Thailand used the same formation in the game but gained vastly different results.
Theoretically, the Vietnam’s formation raised a big question, with Trieu Viet Hung playing as a deep-lying midfielder. This would have put him in a vulnerable situation, facing two attacking midfielders of Thailand. But Hung’s performance in the match showed that he didn’t encounter any big problem in this position.
Hung made many accurate tackles and interceptions in this game. He stayed steady under pressure, because the whole system supported him when he was pressed. The way Vietnam defended made Thailand unable to exploit the space in Hung’s position. In case Hung could not deal with the two attacking midfielders, the centre-backs appeared to make a clearance.
Thanks to this flexibility, Vietnam were rarely outnumbered in important positions.
Setting the trap
In the 5-1-2-2 formation, Vietnam focused their defense on the mid-block when they were not having the ball, and set up three layers of defense. The two strikers, Ha Duc Chinh and Nguyen Hoang Duc were the first layer, followed by three midfielders, Trieu Viet Hung, Nguyen Quang Hai and Truong Van Thai Quy. The last layer had five defenders to be overcome to have a shot at the goal.
The first and second layer formed a pentagonal area in the mid-block. This caused Thailand many difficulties in deploying the ball in the midfield. Their defenders were free to pass the ball because the Vietnamese strikers rarely put pressure on them when they were not attacking. But when Thailand tried to exploit the space in the pentagonal area, they fell into the trap.
The midfield pentagonal trap set by Vietnam against Thailand.
The typical situation was this: when a Thailand defender had the ball and noticed the space in midfield, he passed the ball to the midfielder. But when the midfielder received the ball, the pentagonal trap was activated. Trieu Viet Hung immediately ran up to put pressure, along with two Vietnam strikers. The other midfielders of Vietnam blocked passing options for the Thailand midfielder, which made him stumble under pressure and lose control of the ball. After winning the ball back, Vietnam had the chance to counter attack.
Unable to play the ball in midfield, Thailand searched for attacking options on either wing, but this was not easy because whenever Thai wingbacks got the ball, Vietnamese wingbacks would immediately press them and give them little space to pass the ball forward.
Thailand’s wingbacks were hemmed in by Vietnamese counterparts.
So, when Doan Van Hau put pressure on the Thailand wingback, Nguyen Quang Hai also bocked a passing option, giving the opponent no choice but to pass back to his centre-back.
Twenty minutes later, the Thai wingback put his team in danger with a moment of hesitation. He held the ball for too long at his feet, attracting three Vietnamese players and eventually losing it.
A moment of hesistation put Thailand in a tricky situation.
Thailand may not have expected Vietnam to apply pressure at such a high level, given the lackluster display in the previous game against Indonesia.
When deploying the ball in the midfield, Thailand were often outnumbered. Their striker and two attacking midfielders lacked mobility, not returning to support their teammates as Vietnam did.
Under pressure, Thailand switched to the final and predictable option: long passes. Their defenders stopped passing the ball to the midfield area. Instead, they made direct passes to their striker, Supachai Jaided, who has great height and physique. This seemed like a good way to attack because if Jaided could thrive in the aerial duels, he could pass the ball back to the attacking midfielders and undermine Vietnam’s defense.
But the quality of Vietnam’s defenders ruined Thailand’s plan. Tran Dinh Trong and Huynh Tan Sinh usually beat Jaided thanks to their impressive ability to read the game, although they were helped by the low quality of Thailand’s long passes. The final option was quickly disabled after Jaided left the field with a red card.
Two’s better than one
Park made an important adjustment to the tactics in this game, using two strikers from the start. After the game with Indonesia, Park must have realized that Ha Duc Chinh, the only striker, was completely outmatched by Indonesian defenders. Chinh is not an independent striker like Nguyen Cong Phuong because he is neither a strong dribbler nor an athlete with great body balance. Chinh is good when he has space in the box. If Chinh was the only striker, the defenders would focus on him and deny him that space.
Putting another striker, Nguyen Hoang Duc, beside Chinh proved to be a wise move. Duc drew attention from the defenders and help Chinh get more space in the box.
Two strikers mean more space.
The first goal of Vietnam proved that Park was right. Nguyen Hoang Duc lured two Thailand players on his side, leaving Chinh with one defender as he received a through ball from Doan Van Hau and ran down to score.
Using two strikers also gave Vietnam the advantage in long balls. In this game, goalkeeper Bui Tien Dung often made long passes two Duc Chinh and Hoang Duc, knowing that they will have a better chance to win in aerial duels, unlike Supachai Jaided who worked as the only striker of Thailand. Once Chinh or Duc win in the air, they will give the ball back to the midfielders to set up an attack.
Nguyen Hoang Duc wins in the air and give the ball back to midfield.
When Hoang Duc won in the air and headed the ball back to Quang Hai, Thai Quy and Duc Chinh were also ready to push forward. Thus Vietnam used long passes to make quick attacks.
Some people might say that Thailand underperformed in this game because they did not try hard enough. But it was tactically important victory for Vietnam, and the handsome scoreline prompted the coach to say that fear of Thailand was a thing of the past.
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