The biennial international competition of ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) will be held from December 5, 2021 to January 1, 2022 instead of April 11 to May 8 next year as previously scheduled.
This adjustment means good news for Vietnam’s national team since the Golden Dragons could fully focus on the crucial World Cup 2022 Asian qualification game with Malaysia in March without worrying about running out of breath.
The next advantage is time. At the moment, three key national team defenders, Tran Dinh Trong, Do Duy Manh and Doan Van Hau are nursing prolonged injuries, expected to heal in several months’ time. Competing in World Cup qualifiers and AFF Cup in March and then April would place them at high risk of relapse. With AFF Cup moving to December, they would have enough time not only to recover but also regain their form, bolstering Vietnam’s title defense.
For club football, hosting AFF Cup in late 2021 would help avoid conflict with other club competitions like AFC Champions League and AFC Cup, which will conclude around November next year. Vietnamese clubs who participate in these tournaments, Viettel FC, Hanoi FC and Saigon FC, would not have to worry about letting their players join the national team, ensuring the field their best squads.
The only drawback involves Vietnam’s U22s. SEA Games 31 is set to take place in Vietnam from November 21 to December 2, 2021, just three days before AFF Cup. Vietnam is the title defender at both tournaments. The main problem relates to the four national team players that also play key roles in the U22 team – Bui Hoang Viet Anh, Nguyen Van Toan, Nguyen Hai Long and Doan Van Hau.
If they compete at SEA Games 31, it may prove difficult for them to retain their form going into AFF Cup. Coach Park Hang-seo needs to balance their playing time at these tournaments to benefit the U22 and national teams, or find replacements and save them for AFF Cup.
Vietnam is currently topping group G of World Cup 2022 Asian qualifiers with 11 points, followed by Malaysia (9 points), Thailand (8 points), UAE (6 points) and eliminated Indonesia with zero. The Golden Dragons will clash with Malaysia on March 30, followed by a home game with Indonesia on June 7, and UAE on June 15. The team need to accumulate at least one win and a draw in their remaining matches, with the game against Malaysia the most important because if Vietnam were to get three points out of this tough opponent, their next two matches would provide significantly less pressure.
The national team is currently training from December 6 to 28 in Hanoi. This is their first training of 2020, as all international tournaments this year have been postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Coach Park called up 36 players for this session to find the ultimate line up as well as formation.