Thailand 3 Vietnam 1
Ten-man Thailand ushered Vietnam out of the AFF Suzuki Cup on Friday, two goals from stand-in striker Kirati Keawsombut setting up a 3-1 victory that saw the three-time champions top Group A on nine points.
Thailand will play the second-placed team in Group B in the semi-finals with the Philippines, who took second spot after beating Myanmar 2-0 in the simultaneous kick off, meeting the group winners.
Coach Winfried Schafer was delighted to qualify with full points after wins over Philippines (2-1), Myanmar (4-0) and Vietnam.
“After these three matches I take my hat off to the team for their fight and spirit,” he said. “Nine points, nine goals, fantastic.”
He also praised the virtual second-string team he fielded against the 2008 champions at Bangkok's Rajamangala Stadium.
“We could not play everyone we wanted today because of the risk of suspension,” he added. “But I still wanted a win and this team fought even when a player was sent off.
“I am very happy with the work rate and spirit. It was not easy but we prepared well and that paid off. In training the other players played in the Vietnam style so the team today knew what to expect.”
Vietnam failed to reach the knock-out stage for just the second time in the history of the AFF Suzuki Cup and team manager Ngo Le Bang apologised to the fans.
“We are very disappointed at the result of the game and the tournament,” he said. “We were a bit unlucky today as we had a lot of chances to score.
“Coach Phan Thanh Hung was happy with the performance of the players today and he has said that he bears responsibility for our failure to qualify.
“We are very sorry for not bringing happiness to the fans.”
Vietnam, needing a win to have any chance of qualifying, dropped star striker Le Cong Vinh in favour of attacking midfielder Nguyen Van Quyet, the 21-year-old who scored 12 goals for Hanoi T&T in the V-League last season.
Schafer made sweeping changes with goalkeeper Kawin Thamsatchanan, Piyaphon Bunta, Sumanya Purisai and Anucha Kitpongsri the only survivors from the starting line up against Myanmar in the last game.
Teerasil Dangda, Thailand’s hat-trick hero in the 4-0 win over Myanmar, was not risked as he was on one yellow card with Schafer handing Kirati the striking role.
After a bright start, Vietnam came close to opening the scoring in the eighth minute when Cao Sy Cuong rattled the bar with a thunderbolt after running on to Le Tan Tai’s tapped free kick.
Thailand were knocking it about well in midfield and raiding down the wings but could not find the killer pass.
The breakthrough came in the 17th minute when Vietnam failed to clear a long throw from Piyaphon and Apipoo Suntornpanavej picked out Kirati in the box, the striker netting with a sidefoot.
Vietnam, playing without a recognised striker, were content to try their luck from range and Pham Thanh Luong’s powerful strike in the 31st minute whizzed narrowly past the post.
They continued to surge forward and in the 39th minute Nguyen Trong Hoang looked on despairingly as his netbound effort was tipped over the bar by Kawin.
An injury to Piyaphon near the end of the first half led to the introduction of teenager Chanathip Songkrasin, the player dubbed the “Thai Messi” by local media.
Kawin was pressed into action in the opening minute of the second half, the keeper getting down low to smother a shot from substitute Nguyen Quang Hai.
At the other end, Kirati nearly grabbed his second goal but his header was cleared off the line by a defender.
Chanathip found Kirati in space with a delightful through ball in the 57th minute only for the goalscorer’s control to let him down at the vital moment.
But he made amends in the 64th minute powerfully heading home a delightful cross from Sumanya to put Thailand 2-0 ahead.
Arthit Sunthornphit was shown a straight red card in the 70th minute after a rash reaction to a tackle and Vietnam quickly took advantage of their numerical supremacy, Nguyen Van Quyet nipping in behind the defence to pull one back.
Thailand regrouped quickly and added a third when Nguyen Van Quyet deflected a corner from Sumanya into his own net in the 81st minute.