AFF Cup: Cautious Thailand enter finals after holding Champs Vietnam to goalless draw

by BERNAMA / pic credit: AFF Suzuki Cup FB

KUALA LUMPUR – Five-time champions Thailand booked their place in the 2020 ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Cup Championship finals after holding defending champions Vietnam to a goalless draw in the second leg semifinals at Singapore National Stadium tonight.

Their 2-0 victory in the first leg match last Thursday was enough to propel the War Elephants to their first finals since winning the cup in 2016.

It was Park Hang-seo’s men, however, who launched the first salvo in tonight’s match with a blistering shot by Nguyen Tien Linh in the fourth minute that was unfortunately aimed directly at Thai goalkeeper Chatchai Budprom in an early attempt to reduce the goal deficit.

Vietnam’s attacking momentum was put on hold for around six minutes in the middle of the first half when Chatchai sustained an injury and had to be replaced by Siwarak Tedsungnoen in the 33rd minute.

The Golden Dragons’ best chance in the first half came from an attempt in the 43rd minute, but midfielder Nguyen Hoang Duc’s header off a corner kick sailed pass the crossbar.

By focusing entirely on defence and mounting only the occasional counterattack, Thailand still managed to come close to scoring at the end of the first half, but Vietnam’s goalkeeper Tran Nguyen Manh was alert enough to stop a cracking shot at close range by Thai defender Theerathon Bunmathan at the end of his run from the left of the field.

Vietnam could not fare better in the second half, even after several substitutions as they tried and failed repeatedly to breach the disciplined defence of Alexandre Polking’s charges.

Vietnam striker Phan Van Duc managed to slip through in the 66th minute but his valiant efforts came to naught as Siwarak brilliantly saved his second shot at close range, just seconds after his initial kick ricocheted off a Thai defender.

The teams remained in a stalemate until Jordanian referee Ahmad Ibrahim blew the final whistle, signaling Thailand’s victory and allowing them to redeem their failure in 2018 when they lost to Malaysia in the semifinals.

Thailand will meet Indonesia, who triumphed over Singapore with a 5-3 aggregate yesterday, in the two-leg final on Wednesday and Sunday.

Thailand won their first AFF Cup in 1996, repeating the feat a further four times in 2000, 2002, 2014 and 2016.