Vietnam will have to play Malaysia in the first leg of the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup semi-finals in Kuala Lumpur tomorrow without several of the team's best players.
Showdown: Vietnamese players are training hard for the AFF Suzuki Cup's semi-final first leg match against Malaysia tomorrow.
Coach Henrique Calisto's favourite Nguyen Trong Hoang has been suspended after being given a red card in the game against Singapore last Wednesday.
Meanwhile, halfback Huynh Thanh Quang suffered an ankle injury in the match against Singapore and will not be fit for the semi-finals in Kuala Lumpur, but will be there to cheer on his teammates.
Viet Cuong, whom the Portuguese coach applauded for playing on against Singapore despite being injured, has still to fully recover. It is not yet known who will take his place tomorrow.
Meanwhile, teammate Phan Van Tai Em is suffering from a knee injury and was unable to train on Sunday.
"The match will be very difficult for Vietnam. Every team in the competition wants to beat us," Calisto said.
"But I know Malaysia is in the same situation. They are under heavy pressure to win at home, while some of their players are injured."
Despite the importance of the competition, the Malaysian players will only be awarded a paltry US$1,600 each if they win the tournament, whereas the Vietnamese team stand to receive VND7 billion ($350,000) for defending their crown.
Instead of a financial incentive, the Malaysian officials at the Football Association head office have hung signs that read: "Nothing is impossible, you can do it" and "To be champion, you must beat the champion."
Prior to the start of the tournament Malaysia were not expected to advance to the knock out stages because they'd been drawn in the same pool as Thailand and Indonesia.
However, Malaysia went through after Indonesia beat a very disappointing Thai side.
"It was a great achievement to make it through to the semis, but to lift the cup would be a magnificent triumph," said Datuk Ahmad Shabery Cheek, the Malaysian Minister of Youth and Sports.
Midfielder S Kunalan said Malaysia had every chance of making it into the final for the first time.
"Malaysia have played four semi-final matches but lost all of them. This time after a successful group stage we will do our very best for a berth in the final," Kunalan said.
The midfielder said his team had carefully studied Vietnam's game and would concentrate on the team's weaknesses.
"The central area will be very tense. But when we ‘lock' onto the Vietnamese midfielders we will be able to control them. It will not be easy but we are confident and have the players to get through," he said.
While Vietnam have been training hard for the match, Malaysia have been taking it easy. They had only five training days together and played just one friendly ahead of the tournament.
That said, Malaysia defeated Vietnam 1-0 in the final of the 25th SEA Games last December.
"As the defending champions Vietnam will be under a lot of pressure. On the contrary, Malaysia have nothing to lose, so we are not afraid – particularly as we beat them in the SEA Games last year," Malaysia team's coach, Rajagobal said.
Malaysia will be without eight members of last year's SEA Games team, but Rajagobal said home advantage would offset that set-back.
The other semi-final between Indonesia and the Philippines will be played on Thursday and Sunday at the Geloga Bung Karno Stadium in Jarkata.