Striker Tien Linh named among stars worth watching in 2020 AFC U23 Championship

Friday, 2020-01-03 09:36:06
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Tien Linh has been named as one of young stars to watch at the upcoming AFC tournament. (Photo: NDO/Minh Phu)
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NDO – Vietnamese striker Nguyen Tien Linh has been named by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in the list of stars promising to shine at the 2020 AFC U23 Championship.

After his impressive performance from the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers and the recently-concluded Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, Linh has been picked as one of four players to watch at the Thailand-based tournament’s Group D, which will kick-start on January 8.

Linh was part of his Vietnam U23 side who finished second at the 2018 AFC U23 Championship in China after a miracle run to the final, having only lost 2-1 to reigning champions with a decider in the last minute of the extra time.

As the biennial continental tournament this year offers three slots to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Vietnam U23s have set the goal of making the last three to book a place in Tokyo 2020. Coach Park Hang-seo’s side are in Group D with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Jordan and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

The reigning runners-up have been praised by the AFC as one of the heavyweights for the title, but “there's plenty to suggest talented Jordan, United Arab Emirates and DPR Korea sides can challenge the Southeast Asians in what looks an intriguing group”, the organisers said.

Along with start midfielder Nguyen Quang Hai, who shone with five goals to lead Vietnam to the final in China two years ago, Tien Linh is among the promising stars in the Vietnamese squad that could lend a hand to help Park realise his team’s target. However, AFC also assessed that not only Hai and Linh but Vietnam U23s this year are a talented team with many outstanding individuals who have proven their ability through recent tournaments. “While the talk around Vietnam often centres on Nguyen Quang Hai, there is an array of young talent currently representing the Golden Stars, with Nguyen Tien Linh another of the U23 side who has already excelled at senior level,” according to the-AFC.com.

As a key striker of the Vietnamese teams at both young and senior levels, Tien Linh has shown his ability throughout 2019, thereby winning the trust of coach Park and securing his position. Possessing an ideal physical strength and the ability in the box, the 1997-born striker is a true attacker that Vietnamese football needs amidst many other veteran strikers like Nguyen Anh Duc have said goodbye to the teams. Although there has been a time when the Becamex Binh Duong player was not at his best, Tien Linh still holds the trust of his Korean coach. Park has patiently waited for the 22-year-old to return, and he did not betray the trust of his mentor.

After having to hide under the shadow of other first choices in the squad, from the 2018 AFC U23 Championship, 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup and 2019 AFC Asian Cup, Tien Linh exploded in the second half of last year, contributing greatly to help the national team top Group G in the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers for the Asian zone, with his best being the "world-class" decider from distance in a 1-0 win over UAE at Hanoi’s My Dinh Stadium in mid-November 2019. Next, the 22-year-old striker continued to shine brightly at the 2019 SEA Games in the Philippines with six goals, lifting his Vietnam U22 side to the historic first gold medal for Vietnam after 60 years in men’s football at SEA Games.

Tien Linh (No. 22) and Duc Chinh (No. 9) will be the two “heavy cannons” of coach Park Hang-seo at the 2020 AFC U23 Championship. (Photo: NDO/Minh Phu)

“The Becamex Binh Duong forward appeared at the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 before being amongst the goals as his club side reached the AFC Cup knockout rounds. The highlight of his year, though, was a stunning match-winning strike from distance against the United Arab Emirates in the Asian Qualifiers,” the-AFC.com recalled.

With their good form, Tien Linh and Duc Chinh, who shared the top scoring list at the 2019 SEA Games with eight goals, will be two “heavy cannons” of Park at the upcoming 2020 AFC U23 Championship. The effective combination of the duo has been proven at the recent SEA Games, and it will be the optimal plan for Vietnam U23s on the offensive front in Thailand.

From just a situational test when Park was forced to change his tactics to break the deadlock in the SEA Games Group B match against Singapore U22s, Tien Linh was suddenly introduced into the field to pair with Duc Chinh, as Vietnam gave up their sole-striker plan to strengthen attacks. The pilot has immediately been effective, as Duc Chinh and Tien Linh had since alternately scored in the remaining stages of the tournament, having net a total of 14 out of 24 goals for Vietnam in the run to the history SEA Games gold medal.

Park was not only successfully in the test for the two-striker tactic when he needed to strengthen the attack for Vietnam U23s, the Korean strategist also showed his ability in using the right players at the right time. Needless to say, before shining brightly in the SEA Games, both Duc Chinh and Tien Linh went through a period of decline in form. Regardless of that, Park still has a firm belief in the duo, despite having been doubted and put under a lot of pressure for this choice. Tien Linh was really at his best until he scored against Indonesia in the World Cup qualifier last November, but then shone brightly in the next qualifier against the UAE and of course in the SEA Games, thanks to Park’s patience.

The same situation happened for Duc Chinh. He was ignored in his SHB Da Nang FC due to decline in form. However, the 1997-born has also returned impressively, thanks to Park's absolute trust when he continuously summoned the Phu Tho Province native without kicking him out of his plans.

Therefore, it can be said that the trust of Park in his players will help Tien Linh and Duc Chinh return to their best shape to be ready to help Vietnam realise their new goal at the AFC tournament.

Vietnam will play their Group D opener against the UAE at the Buriram Stadium in Buriram Province on January 10.

>>> Vietnam U23s arrive in Thailand for 2020 AFC U23 Championship campaign

>>> Captain Quang Hai vows to achieve best result at 2020 AFC U23 Championship

TRUNG HUNG