Sunil Chhetri’s India prepare for a tough test against Vietnam in a football friendly match

In 2010, a few events were happening simultaneously in Vietnamese football. They had just been beaten 3-1 by an Indian team which had Sunil Chhetri as a striker.

Their football association went through elections and candidates offered attractive cash prizes to players for winning regional tournaments. Vietnam’s then president Nguyen Trong Hy suggested the country should start naturalizing players from different parts of the world – an argument that continues to be made for Indian football today, albeit for players of Indian origin.

Cut to 12 years later. Vietnam have qualified for the quarter-finals of the AFC Asian Cup. The senior team is perfectly placed to qualify for the 2026 World Cup where Asian countries will have 8.5 quota places (eight direct qualifiers and one team in the intercontinental qualifiers). Their youth teams are thriving with rapid growth fueled by private investment in football academies at youth level. No special cash prizes for competitive wins, just an emphasis on investing in grassroots football.

India in 2022 continue to look to their talismanic striker who scored a hat-trick against Vietnam 12 years ago, quite comfortably out of World Cup scenarios and barely qualifying for the Asian Cup. Vietnam’s growth, and its absence in India for the past 12 years, should be on full display on Tuesday when the two teams meet at Thống Nhất Stadium in Ho Chi Minh City in an international friendly match.

The friendly match is part of the Hung Thinh Friendly Football Tournament – featuring 104th-ranked India, Singapore (159) and Vietnam (97). In this case, the FIFA ranking is not indicative of the true footballing merit of these teams. While Vietnam contested the third round of World Cup qualifiers against countries like Japan, Australia and Saudi Arabia, India, just 13 places behind them in the world rankings, drew 1 -1 against Singapore in their first friendly on Saturday.

Lots to work on

Singapore were far too organized in their passing and positioning to be this low in the FIFA rankings and their performance against India was telling that the difference of over 50 ranking positions between the two countries was not a reflection true to reality displayed during the 90-minute standoff.

It was in stark contrast to India, who were playing their first match of the tournament and missing a few key players. The performance – other than a few individual moments of moving the ball forward, particularly by Ashique Kuruniyan – really didn’t have much to tell.

India will have their first-choice centre-back duo of Sandesh Jhingan and Chinglesana Singh for their game against Vietnam. But they are still missing a few key players – the main one being Apuia Ralte, a midfielder who can sit in the heart of the pitch and pirouette for days around opposing players. In response to India’s question about progression from the pitch to midfield, Ralte is currently in Belgium for a training camp with Lommel SK – an affiliate club of the City Football Group. Chhetri, 38, is in a vein of rich form and will once again lead the Indian attack.

India head coach Igor Stimac has made it clear that Vietnam are going to be a tougher opponent for his side and they should concentrate and execute much better for a successful game. The Croatian was recently granted a contract extension until the 2023 AFC Asian Cup.

“It will be a very different match against a much stronger opponent, so our approach will also change accordingly,” Stimac told the AlFF website. “We need to be more focused, especially on vertical football and quick transitions. At the same time, we also have to stay focused on our defence. They pose a real threat from long-range shots and their crosses, and we have to be able to deal with that.

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