In group G of the 2022 Asian qualifiers’ second round, Vietnam are grouped with the UAE, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
They were in the second seeding pot, and opponents are cautious about the growing football power.
Arch rival Thailand said Vietnam, the current AFF Cup champions, can be quite an obstacle and disrupt their journey to the third round.
"Vietnam, our biggest opponent in the region, defeated us in the King’s Cup. They are the ‘toothpicks’ that always ready to poke Thailand in any game," the official Facebook page of the Thai national team said.
"This team carry a desire to win in their heart at all times and their fans always want them to win against us. Vietnam is our biggest opponent in ASEAN."
Football Association of Thailand Chairman Somyot Poompanmuang said many things need to be changed to beat Vietnam.
"We cannot underestimate any team in ASEAN. There is not much of a difference between our level and theirs. They have all made significant improvement, especially Vietnam. If Thailand want to beat Vietnam, many comprehensive changes must be made in our system."
Thai newspaper Siam Sports carried a big story on Thailand’s opponents in group G, which admitted Vietnam are now stronger than Thailand.
It said: "We need to focus and compete for a slot in the next round with Vietnam. Although we have to accept the fact that Vietnam have a better style of play and team spirit, football is always full of surprises."
The UAE are the strongest team in group G, but their media too thinks Vietnam would be a dangerous opponent.
UAE newspaper Khaleej Times wrote that Vietnam "have been immensely improved in just a short time." It said the team's performance at Asian Cup 2019 was proof that they could play well against top teams in Asia like Japan, Iraq and Iran.
Vietnam’s journey at the 2019 Asian Cup ended in the quarterfinals with a solitary goal loss against four-time champions Japan.
At the Asian Games last year, Vietnam lost the football bronze medal to UAE in a penalty shootout.
Another UAE newspaper, The National, said Vietnam and Thailand are close to the top teams and the fight for the first spot would be intense.
FIFA said while the UAE are favored to advance, Vietnam are their big threat in group G.
UAE, who aim to seal their World Cup return, are the highly-favored side, but they cannot underestimate their competition, it said. "Both Thailand and Vietnam pose a threat considering their impressive displays in this year's AFC Asian Cup."
Arabic sports site Kooora said UAE need to watch out for Vietnam, which have caused big surprises thanks to the growth of young talents in the past two years.
Weaker opponents like Malaysia and Indonesia are also wary of Vietnam.
Malaysian head coach Tan Cheng Hoe said after the draw: "Malaysia will have to be very focused in the upcoming games with Vietnam because they have many great players, especially number 10 (Nguyen Cong Phuong) and number 19 (Nguyen Quang Hai), and some players are playing overseas."
Indonesian newspaper Indosport called Vietnam the strongest opponent in Southeast Asia and a big challenge to Indonesia.
"As the champion of the 2018 AFF Cup, Vietnam are now the strongest team in ASEAN. They used to be at the same level as Indonesia. But after Park Hang-seo took over the team, Vietnam are solid."
Vietnam will play their first game away on September 5 against Thailand then clash with Malaysia at home on October 10. Five days later they will play in Indonesia.
In November Vietnam will play at home against the UAE and Thailand.
The eight group winners and the four best runners-up will advance to the third round and also automatically qualify for the 2023 Asian Cup to be held in China.
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