Defending champions Vietnam started their campaign on the right note when they powered past Laos 4-1 in their Group C opener of the AFF Under-23 Championship 2023 that was played at the Rayong Provincial Stadium today.
Having the day off on the first day of their group competition may have affected their movement somewhat but Vietnam would soon regroup to pick up the full points against a determined Laotian side.
“There were some mistakes in the first half but we played better after the break. Now, we have to reorganise and play better in our next match (against the Philippines),” said Nguyen Minh Quang, who was also chosen as the Man of the Match.
The disappointing draw on the first day of the competition meant that the onus was always on Laos to bring their game to a Vietnamese side that had eight players who were winners in 2022.
Following the lucky escape when Khuat Van Khang’s attempt was cleared by a recovering Laotian defender, there was no stopping Vietnam from grabbing the lead in the 24th minute when the shot from Vo Hoang Minh Khoa was bounced into goal by Laos defender Phetdavanh Somsanid.
Laos then played it tight at the back to frustrate Vietnam all the way to the start of the second half.
And just seven minutes in, Laos were back on level terms when Thippachan Khambai One pounced on a loose ball following the cross from Anousone Xaypanya.
The several substitutions for Vietnam soon after gave them more attacking options and in a four-minute blitz, scored twice to put the score at 3-1.
In the 72nd minute, Minh Quang beat his marker from the middle of the park before unleashing a shot past Laos keeper Solasak Thilavong while in the 76th minute, Dinh Xuan Tien then capitalised on a defensive mistake to put his team further ahead.
Vietnam then finished off a fine afternoon with their fourth goal of the game deep in injury time with a quick counter-attack that was finished off by Bui Vi Hao.
As Vietnam will now look forward to playing against the Philippines in their final game of Group C in two days, the loss for Laos meant that they are already out of the competition.
In the meantime, Indonesia were made to work hard for their narrow 1-0 win over Timor Leste in their second game of Group B.
It being Timor Leste’s first match of the competition, the fresher legs meant that Timor Leste were full of running against a side that is a tad more experienced.
But whether it was a case of over-confidence or just plain unlucky, the fact that striker Muhammad Ramadhan Sananta missed several sitters is a case for concern.
“I had a better first half than the second,” said Ramadhan. “It is something which I really need to work on.”
Following Indonesia’s loss to Malaysia in their first game in Group B two days earlier, there was pressure on the SEA Games champions to put up a better performance and win their first game in the group.
As expected, Indonesia took the lion’s share of the possession and offensive play as Timor Leste kept looking for the holes to exploit.
Following the early frustrations with the near misses and miscued attempts, Indonesia even pushed for a four-man attack at one point with captain Bagas Kaffa on the flank supporting the triumvirate of Ramadhan, Jeam Stroyer and Abdul Rahman.
But the frustration kept growing until just before the end of the first half when Indonesia finally broke the deadlock with Ramadhan heading home the cross from Beckham Putra Nugraha.
For Timor Leste, they kept on the defensive as much as they had done in the first half with several counter-attacks from Olagar Xavier and Luis Figo Ribeiro often unsupported.
Indonesia kept nudging at Timor Leste but to no avail as Ramadhan missed several sitters on a trot just after the hour mark to indent the dire sense of frustration of a long, long night.
In the end, that solitary strike from Ramadhan was all that Indonesia could show for as they will now have to wait for the outcome of the Timor Leste-Malaysia tie next.
“It was a very good match for us. We put in a lot of effort and we aim to do better in the next game,” said Timor Leste head coach Park Soon-tae.
AFF UNDER-23 CHAMPIONSHIP 2023
GROUP C – RESULT
20 August 2023
Laos 1-4 Vietnam
22 August 2023 – Rayong Provincial Stadium
2000hrs: Vietnam vs Philippines
GROUP B – RESULT
20 August 2023
Indonesia 1-0 Timor Leste
22 August 2023 – Rayong Stadium
2000hrs: Timor Leste vs Malaysia