There was no doubt that Malaysia took on Vietnam in the final of the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup, there was a sizeable gap in almost every measurable metrics whether it is the speed, endurance, fitness levels, tactical nous or quality of the players within the two respective squads.
Fast forward 10 months later and it would seemed that Malaysia have stolen a march in closing the gap to Vietnam. Half of the probably starting eleven will be different from the one that walked out on the My Dinh Stadium pitch back in December last year.
It is a view shared by local journalist, Lam Thoa from VNExpress who like the rest of Vietnam was able to catch both of Malaysia's first two Group G matches against Indonesia and United Arab Emirates live on Vietnam television, such is the interest in this joint 2022 World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup qualifiers.
"Vietnam football fans are very eager for the match, they want to see the team play the first World Cup qualifier at home and they are prepared to make a good environment for the team. I think the recent match at Thailand went very well but now we need a win to keep the hope of qualification.
"But we are not cannot sure that Vietnam can win because Malaysia very strong this time, good in attack and defend very well too. But this is our home and we are the champions of ASEAN, so we hope to win and get three points even though it will be difficult.
"We played well during the AFF Championship but we have lost some players because of injuries like (Phan) Van Duc at the left wing. So it affect the team very much. Also (Nguyen) Cong Phuong has not played much since he went abroad so I'm not sure we are any stronger, maybe just as we were last year," said Lam.
It would be however churlish to think that it will be easy for Malaysia to pick up another win on the road in the group. Vietnam are rightly still the favourites for today's match and the big question remains how much narrowing of the gap that has been done and whether it makes both teams on level pegging.
When the teams took to the field at the stadium for their respective officials trainings on Wednesday evening, the grass at My Dinh looked rather thick and that may in itself inhibit the kind of style that Tan Cheng Hoe prefers his team to play.
It all makes for a very tough 90 minutes in Hanoi as Cheng Hoe will be hoping for third time's the charm having lost his two previous matches at the ground. The first one ended in a 2-0 defeat followed by a 1-0 loss, so perhaps in following that trend, a defeat can finally be avoided come the final whistle.
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