So near, yet so far for Việt Nam and Park Hang-seo.
The national team were on the cusp of a first competitive victory over China late last week, and when Nguyễn Tiến Linh equalised in the 90 th minute I was convinced they would kick on to take a famous victory, as all the momentum was with the Vietnamese.
Unfortunately, class told and China's Wu Lei scored in the 95 th minute to seal a 3-2 win and all three points.
The Espanyol man scored twice on the night and for both goals Vietnamese defender Nguyễn Thanh Bình was left trailing in his wake.
It would be unfair to criticise the 20-year-old defender too harshly for failing to keep up with Lei, as after all, the Chinese star plays against the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona week in week out, whereas Binh isn't even an automatic starter in the V.League 1.
Instead, our criticism should be directly squarely at coach Park.
Bringing Bình on for his second cap in replacement of his club captain Bùi Tiến Dũng and charging him with marking Lei was a baffling decision that I have yet to see a good justification for.
Dung had been dealing with an injury so may have been unable to continue, though he looks likely to start tomorrow against Oman, so how injured could he have been? In addition, there was a more experienced option available on the bench in Nguyễn Thành Chung.
However, the substitution isn't what Park deserves criticism for, it's what he's done since then.
Yes, the South Korean tactician came out after the match and admitted that making the substitution too early was his fault.
However, actions speak louder than words and Park's decision to drop Bình from the squad ahead of the Oman match spoke volumes for me.
Binh and fellow senior squad member Lê Xuân Nam will stay in the UAE to link up with U22 squad for a pair of friendlies against Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan before they play AFC U23 Championship qualifiers in the former country, while three other members of the senior team will join them after the Oman match.
Park was so near to taking responsibility for his tactical tinkering, yet so far from actually doing so.
From the outside, dropping the 20-year-old into the underage squad after the torrid 20 minutes of action he had against China looked like a punishment for Bình, and one that could well dent his confidence severely.
For his part, Park reportedly said Bình was left in the UAE not for making a mistake, but because the U22s are preparing for what is "also a pretty important tournament".
He added that the senior team had enough players for the Oman trip, the main players of the U22 team should stay in the UAE to prepare and staying behind would relieve the psychological pressure on Binh.
For me, keeping him in the senior squad would have made more sense, especially as two likely U22 starters, Nguyễn Văn Toản and Bùi Hoàng Việt Anh, are both still with the senior squad. And dropping him from the squad has made this a far bigger story than keeping him in it for just a few days more would have, so I would argue the player would have been better protected in anonymity.
Let's hope someone within the national team camp is at least asking Park some tough questions.
Đỗ Quang Hiển, the chairman of Hà Nội FC and one of the biggest names in local football, seems to agree with me.
Hiển recently said Park was "conservative" with his team selections and questioned how many people in football were "brave" enough to question him.
Park responded emphatically. He questioned why Hien called him conservative, said people from Hà Nội FC shouldn't question his tactics and even said speaking about it in the press was "not polite".
After four years of unprecedented success, it's easy to forget that Park is in fact fallible, and lots of us have been guilty of deifying the man now and again (myself included), but I hope for his and Bình's sake this whole incident leads to some reflection. — VNS
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