16/07/2007

Vietnam lose 4-1; the Celebrations will go on late tonight!

After the heat and humidity of Hanoi, it is a relief to come down to Ho Chi Minh City, (formerly known as Saigon), where is may still be hot and humid, it is somewhat more comfortable to walk outside than in the capital. The city itself is a curious mixture, the centre pieces being curiously French architecture left over from colonial times – a red brick cathedral, the spacious post office and a very opulent opera house. If one move to the Chinese part of the city, then there are some magnificently decorated temples. Between the two, the typical tall narrow buildings of the locals, painted in their contrasting colours, some welcome green spaces, and everywhere the hooting of motor scooters flitting around the city

As Qatar have two points, while Japan and Vietnam, playing each other in Hanoi have four, they have choosen an attacking line up, starting in 4-3-3. The United Arab Emirates know they go home after this game, and have dropped all but three from the starting line up of the last game. The match is being played at the stadium known as Quan Khu 7, and translated into English as the Army Stadium. Like the others so far visited, it has an athletics track. Outside this are rows of brightly coloured concrete seats – about ten rows behind the goals, rising at least another four rows along the side. A modern stand sits along one side and provides the only protection from the elements. Most of the sparse crowd are either in this stand or in the first block beyond. Almost to a man, they are supporting the United Arab Emirates – after all, if Qatar do not win this match, then Vietnam (and for that matter Japan) will qualify regardless of the score in the other game. Every time the UAE got the ball, it was applauded, but this was nothing to the crescendo that greeted the news that Vietnam were ahead in their match, rising in intensity as more people confirmed the news. No more than a whimper signalled the Japanese equaliser four minutes later.

The balance of the early play was just in Qatar, but were having little joy in front of the goal, and the UAE started to create a few more chances and get the local crowd excited, (the news that Vietnam were now losing having quietened them a bit), but five minutes from half time, it all went wrong as Quintana was fouled just inside the box. The referee tried to be helpful, ruling the first score from the resulting penalty as illegal (assumedly for an infringement), but Quintana is not an easily rattled played, and put his second attempt into the roof of the net. Two minutes later, the UAE goalkeeper somehow contrived to mess up a clearance and get caught in a tangle of feet with a Qatar player. The referee decided to give an indirect free kick inches inside the box. Quintana’s powerful shot was blocked by the wall this time, while Yahya headed the resultant corner just wide. At half time, Qatar lead 1-0, and with Japan also ahead, it is not looking good for Vietnam.

The second half was very much in the same vein as the first, Qatar having the play but not looking that likely to get a second goal, while Vietnamese hopes took another knock thanks to Shunsuke Nakamura adding Japan’s third goal. Ten minutes there was a chance for UAE when Jumaa crossed for Nawaf Mubarak, but the number nine was a foot away from making contact., and then on 58 minutes another cross from the right, this time from Ahmed Mohamed AL Mahri was met by the head of Saeed Alkas and this time UAE were level. The crowd exploded back into life, and there were regular chants of U-A-E, but the team did not respond in kind, as it was Qatar that were woken up by the goal. Meanwhile, Japan’s position in the ascendancy in Hanoi was being confirmed, as the raised the score to 4-1

It took until 68 minutes into the game before the first substitution, Qatar bringing on Magid Hassan as an alternative attacked to Ali Yahya, but keeping the same 4-3-3 formation. A defensive change followed, Mesaad Al Hammad coming on for Mustafa Abdulla, but again without a change in the formation. The Qatar play was try to and move the ball quickly, using mainly the inside left channel, and then trying to get the ball to Quintana. UAE’s tactics were to try and block the ball before it reached the Uruguayan and then boot it upfield as quick as possible. With fourteen minutes to play, UAE made their first change – taking off the goalscorer Alkas and bringing on Faisal Khalil, another striker. Qatar’s final change, bringing on Adel Mohamed for Wesam meant an extra forward and a final 12 minutes of bombarding the goal in 4-2-4 formation. UAE then brought on Mohamed Al Shehhi for Nawaf Mubarek, still keeping their shape. Qatar continued to press, but the UAE were making a good effort in keeping the ball from Quintana. This was an effective tactic, for despite giving putting Magid in with a clear chance on 84 minutes, the forward missed the target. As soon as a white shirted player received the ball, the ground would scream their delight, especially if the player could run with the ball and maybe draw a foul. For once time wasted by an injury was cheered not jeered. The 90 minutes were passed with 18 being treated, it took more than another minute to bring on 20 as the final sub. Qatar pushed down one wing and then the other, but UAE defenders were blocking every cross, while the runs of 13 brought the fouls, and brought the crowd to their feet. Four minutes over – Mater takes a very long run and powers a low shot through the wall. Qatar goalkeeper Saqr saves, but the ball bounces up. Faisil Khalil is first on hand, and heads into the empty net. The game ends seconds later with Vietnam, beaten 4-1 in Hanoi reaching the quarter finals.

Outside the gates to the stadium, the crowd spent a long time chanting for their own team and for UAE. Bruno Metsu gave just the briefest of press conferences (it mattered little, you could hardly hear what was said) before boarding the bus amid his cheering support. Metsu will not be such a hero when he returns to the Emirates as he now is in Vietnam. Perhaps he should head east for his next job. I feel Qatar failed because they are too reliant on a single player, and the other forwards do not feel up to the purpose of taking on the responsibility