Park Hang-seo has admitted that Vietnam’s strong performances over the past year have led to far greater expectation among supporters as the Vietnamese prepare to take on Laos in their AFF Suzuki Cup Group A opener at New Laos National Stadium on Thursday.

Vietnam’s U-23 side reached the final of the AFC U23 Championship in China at the beginning of the year, while they also advanced to the semi-finals of the Asian Games in Indonesia in August.

The 2016 semi-finalists have also qualified for the AFC Asian Cup in January and, alongside Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar and Cambodia in Group A, will start the tournament among the favourites as they seek to add to their 2008 title.

“Away matches are always difficult and tomorrow is our first so it won’t be easy, but we are focused on it and we have prepared very well in order to put in a good performance,” said Park.

“As a football manager I always have pressure on me but I know how to deal with it. I’ve experienced it in Korea, in China and in Indonesia. Of course I know Vietnamese people expect a lot in this competition so we have to do our best to satisfy them.

“In our squad there are 15 members under 23 and eight members over 23, so we have a very young squad. I think we can be very dynamic in this competition. We have young players who I believe will put in a good performance and satisfy Vietnam’s expectation.”

The 2016 edition of the competition was the first time Laos had failed to qualify, meanwhile, but they return for their 11th appearance and looking to progress from the group stage for the first time.

Under Singaporean head coach V. Sundramoorthy, the Laotians have a man with plenty of experience at the helm, after the forward – known in his playing days as the dazzler – starred for his country for 12 years between 1983 and 1995.

Sundramoorthy exited at the group stage when in charge of Singapore in 2016 and knows Laos will face an extremely tough task in order to make the knockout rounds.

“I know it’s a big challenge against Vietnam but we are looking forward to it and in football anything is possible. I know they are favourites but we’ll do our best,” said Sundramoorthy, who picked out midfielder Luong Xuan Truong and forward Nguyen Van Quyet as Vietnam’s star players.

“I think Vietnam have an outstanding team. I’ve seen their young team at the U-20 World Cup and the Asian Games and they have performed very well.

“But we have been preparing to try and get the boys ready for this important tournament. I know their team, so it’s about how we approach the game and make it difficult for them.”

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