Having clinched their maiden AFF Suzuki Cup title in 2008, Vietnam are keen to emulate the feat heading into the tournament's ninth edition next month. While Phan Thanh Hung's side are sparing no effort in preparation, they have received a timely boost with a six-place climb to 140 in October's FIFA/Coca Cola World Ranking.
The Golden Stars began 2012 with steady, slow progress up the global ladder, clawing themselves from 101 (January) to 98 (June). The promising upward spiral, however, was brought to an abrupt end with a 22-place slump in July - in part due to a 3-0 friendly loss against China PR.
Their status on the global pecking order suffered another serious blow the following month, with a 26-place slip to 146. With the recent move, though, the Vietnamese can finally turn the negative trend on its head as they seek a morale-booster ahead of their Suzuki Cup group campaign against co-hosts Thailand, Philippines and Myanmar.
Contributing to Vietnam’s rise was a 2-0 triumph over Malaysia in September. In the two sides' prior meeting, the Malayan Tigers emerged aggregate winners in the 2010 Suzuki Cup semi-finals en route to the final, where they prevailed over Thailand to win their first title.
In what proved to be a redemptive outing in Kuala Lumpur, the Vietnamese made full use of their opportunity. Star striker Le Cong Vinh opened the scoring for the visitors through a header on the half-hour mark, before Phan Thanh Hung lobbed home after the restart to gain a measure of revenge.
Vietnam are renowned for producing agile players with deft skills and lightning pace. Legendary former national team striker Le Huynh Duc typically embodying such attributes. Spearheading the current squad is none other than 26-year-old Cong Vinh, who scored the famous stoppage-time goal against Thailand which sealed their breakthrough Suzuki Cup triumph four years ago.
With the ongoing development of the national league, a host of youth talents have come up through the ranks. Most notably, 23-year-old forward Nguyen Trong Hoang has made his name as the country's emerging star. He helped Song Lam Nghe An to the Vietnamese Cup title in 2010, while finishing as Vietnam's top-scorer in that year's Suzuki Cup.
To complement their technical skills with physical fitness, coach Thanh Hung introduced a daily ten-kilometre run along the beach at Nha Trang during an 11-day training camp in October, as he seeks to give his side every opportunity for success next month.
And the hard work paid partial dividends, with Vietnam dominating throughout in a recent friendly against Indonesia, only to be held to a goalless draw. "I am happy with the performance,” the 52-year-old Ha Noi T&T coach said. “The players played well and applied exactly the planned strategies. Of course, the outcome would have been ideal if we had scored a goal.”
With the 2015 AFC Asian Cup qualifying campaign kicking off next February, the former national team striker has even set his sights on success beyond the region. In their only continental appearance in 2007, co-hosts Vietnam took the Asian competition by storm powering into the last eight. With that memory still fresh, Thanh Hung and his charges are keen to seal their second continental appearance from a group which also features Uzbekistan, United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong.
"The rivals in this group are not too strong," said the Vietnam mentor. “But our players must play well if they want to qualify. This is the top competition of the continent, so the teams will make every effort to win a good position in the group stage."