Vietnam have missed out on qualifying for the knockout stages of the AFC U23 Championships in Thailand after their 2-1 loss to North Korea in a decisive match saw them finish at the bottom of Group D with just two points.
Park Hang-Seo’s side came into the game needing a win after two successive 0-0 draws saw them sit precariously in third place, and they would have needed one of either Jordan or the UAE to collect all three points from their game.
Things looked positive for the Southeast Asian side, who finally netted their first goal of the tournament just 16 minutes into the game. One long ball from the defense was enough to catch the North Korean defense off guard, with left wing-back Ho Tan Tai breaking in beyond the back-line and squaring the ball to striker Nguyen Tien Linh for a one-touch finish.
However, the side were only able to hold their lead for another 11 minutes, as the Koreans leveled the scoring with a long-range free-kick, which ricocheted off the crossbar and Vietnamese goalkeeper Bui Tien Dung before finding its way into the back of the net.
Vietnam’s elimination was then sealed in the dying moments of the game, when a reckless foul from substitute Bao Toan Tran gifted North Korea with a penalty. Attacking midfielder Ri Chung-gyu made no mistake from the spot and inflicted a rare competitive loss on Park Hang-Seo’s side, sending them packing and cutting short their dream of qualifying for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
This tournament showed the limitations of Coach Park’s pragmatic, defensive approach, and represents the first major setback after two years of incredible success. It is a reality check which the side needs to respond to well if they wish to continue their overperformance on the continental stage.