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Defensive opposition stifles Vietnam's title hopes

Hanoi: Vietnam's hopes of retaining the AFF Suzuki Cup came to an end at the semi-final stage and the team's failure to hold on to the trophy came down to one vital reason; an inability to score goals against well-drilled opposing defences.

While Henrique Calisto's side found the back of the net on seven occasions in their opening game against Myanmar, the Vietnamese could only muster one more goal in their remaining four games of the 2010 edition of the regional competition.

That came in the must-win clash with Singapore in their final group match at My Dinh Stadium, a victory that secured the Vietnamese a place in the last four, where they lost 2-0 on aggregate to Malaysia.

In the semi-final, just as they did in the group stages, the holders dominated much of the proceedings against K. Rajagobal's team but an inability to convert their possession into goals scored ultimately ended their hopes of a second successive title.

"If you compare our strikers with the strikers of Malaysia, we are more strong," said Calisto. "If you compare them to the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand, we are more strong. What can you do?

"Our game is based on our players but we have problems when the other team takes a defensive position. This is the reality. We must find a solution.

"We had problems when we attacked against the Philippines and we didn't score. In the last two games we attacked more than our opponent but we couldn't score. We don't have one striker with the characteristics of fighting, heading.

"I know my players and everyone knows we have problems. Everyone knows when we play face-to-face, we have technical players and we dominate the game. When we scored one goal and then it's totally different.

"When we are winning the game, the other team must attack and leave more spaces."

Vietnam's goal scoring struggles in the previous games saw Calisto attempt to shake up his team in the striking department for the second leg of the semi-final, when Vietnam needed to score two unanswered goals just to take the game into extra-time.

Nguyen Anh Duc – Vietnam's most physically imposing player and who had started in all four previous games – made way for Nguyen Viet Thang but the change made little difference as Calisto's team struggled to create clear-cut openings against a disciplined Malaysian defence.

While Vietnam had the majority of possession and had the best of the chances throughout the 90 minutes, Malaysian goalkeeper Khairul Fahmi was equal to the task when called upon at the My Dinh Stadium and Viet Thang eventually made way for Anh Duc midway through the second half.

That late throw of the dice, though, was not enough to save a Vietnam side that was also missing the man who was instrumental to their success two years earlier, injured striker Le Cong Vinh.

Beyond the form of those who played or the players who were absent, Calisto is aware that scoring goals is an issue that has hampered his team beyond the game at regional level.

"This is the reality at Asian level, too," he said. "When we play against Iran, the smallest player in the Iranian team is taller than our tallest player, only Anh Duc and the goalkeeper are taller. It's the same against Turkmenistan, it's the same against North Korea, and South Korea it's the same.

"When a team plays defensive style we know we have problems if we don't score one goal. If you don't score one time then you can't score a second or third. We can play cross after cross. This is not the game that Vietnam can do.

"But I'm very happy with my players and very proud of my players and I take responsibility for the result, so I must say: Don't criticise the players. Criticise me. I stay here to receive the criticism."