VIETNAM coach Park Hang-seo has angrily accused Malaysia of spying on the eve of their World Cup qualifier in Hanoi.
It is evident that mind games were already in play on Monday when the two teams went for training at the same venue in the evening.
The drama started after Vietnam and Malaysia were given time slots to train at the Vietnam Football Federation Youth Centre field.
The incident that led to Hang-seo losing his cool happened after both the teams were allocated back-to-back training times without a break in between.
The Malaysian team arrived at the ground at 5.45pm, which was 15 minutes earlier, while the Vietnam players were still training.
At the sight of the Malaysians, an upset Hang-seo told coach Tan Cheng Hoe and his men to stay on the bus and move to another corner, that was out of sight.
While the Malaysian players were changing into their jerseys, Cheng Hoe stood and watched the Vietnam team train.
Hang-seo then ordered his players to stop training. And he later shifted Vietnam’s training session to a different location.
The pre-World Cup tension is palpable in Hanoi. And Hang-seo is taking the arrival of the “enemies” in their backyard seriously and is leaving nothing to chance.
Prior to yesterday’s joint press conference by Hang-seo and Cheng Hoe, both Vietnam and Malaysia have been having closed door training amid an atmosphere of secrecy.
At the press conference, a grim looking Hang-seo said he doesn’t believe much in past records.
That, in a way, is good for Malaysia since the statistics favour Vietnam. In 20 previous meetings, Malaysia lost 11 times to Vietnam while winning six times.
“I don’t give a lot of weight on the past or previous achievements. We have to focus and move on.
“So I cannot say with 100 per cent confidence that we’ll beat Malaysia but we will try for sure,” said Hang-seo.
The match strategies of the much respected Hang-seo will undoubtedly be a big threat to Malaysia.
Hang-seo was the assistant coach to Guus Hiddink when the Dutchman steered South Korea to the semi-finals of the 2002 World Cup.
And Hang-seo is already making his name as a coach with Vietnam, having made them the Asean champions (as AFF Cup winners in December) before guiding Vietnam to the Asian Cup quarter-finals in the United Arab Emirates in January.
Notably, two Vietnamese players thrived under Hang-seo, and have gone on to join European clubs.
Doan Van Hau is now with Dutch club SC Heerenveen while Nguyen Cong Phuong turns out for Belgium outfit Saint-Truidense. Goalkeeper Dang Van Lam is based in Thailand.
“Cong Phuong arrived back on Oct 7, Van Hau on Oct 8. They will be ready for the match (against Malaysia),” said Hang-seo.
“Since the 2018 AFF Cup, Malaysia have more foreign players with a playing style that is more safe. The midfield is stronger and faster.
“We have to be cautious of Malaysia’s inside pass and their wingers have good speed and agility.
“The rate of Malaysian team scoring is high, so we have to be ready for that,” said Hang-seo.
But not everything is going well in Vietnam’s preparation. There are concerns over the the fitness of six Hanoi FC players.
The club reached the Vietnam inter-zone play-off final and were crowned as Asean champions after beating Becamex Binh Duong.
But the extra fixtures took their toll on Hanoi FC’s national players. Key players like defender Do Duy Manh, Nguyen Quang Hai and Do Hung Dung are fighting to be fully fit against Malaysia.