Tan Cheng Hoe has yet to taste success against Vietnam since he became Malaysia’s head coach near the end of 2017 but that could change when the two teams meet again in a World Cup qualifier at the My Dinh stadium on Thursday.
Malaysia not only failed to beat Vietnam in two matches in Hanoi last year under Tan but the team also did not score in either game against the world’s 99th-ranked side.
The national team have only beaten Vietnam once from nine away meetings and lost both encounters in the Vietnamese capital in the AFF Cup last year – 2-0 in the group stage and 1-0 in the second leg of the final after a 2-2 draw in Bukit Jalil.
Even when Malaysia lifted the AFF Cup for the only time in 2010, Malaysia drew 0-0 with Vietnam in Hanoi on the way to a 2-0 aggregate win in the semi-finals when Tan was an assistant to coach K. Rajagobal.
So on paper at least, South Korean coach Park Hang-seo’s Vietnam appear to be the favourites in the Asian Group G qualifier against 158th-ranked Malaysia.
But Tan is confident Malaysia are due for a change of luck in Hanoi as they look to bounce back from a 1-0 defeat to the United Arab Emirates last month and build on a 3-2 victory over Indonesia in their opening Group G match.
“I think Park has done a great job and really transformed the team since he became head coach of Vietnam,” said Tan in Hanoi on Wednesday. “As a coach, I’m optimistic of getting a result tomorrow and I belief every team can be beaten at the right time.
“Vietnam has played in the Asian Cup and had good a performance there in reaching the quarter-finals. The people of Vietnam are so proud of the team and the expectations on them are very high. For my team, it will be difficult to play away against Vietnam but I am very positive we will get a good result.”
Tan’s team arrived in Hanoi fresh from running up half-a-dozen goals against lowly Sri Lanka in Bukit Jalil last Saturday which ought to put the players in right frame of mind in front of an expectant home crowd.
The 6-0 result took Malaysia’s goals tally to 26 from nine matches this year, admittedly with 18 of them coming against weak opposition, including 12 in two matches against Timor Leste in the first round of the World Cup qualification.
Despite a dearth of attacking talent in the M-League, Tan has seen seen Syafiq Ahmad emerge as the country’s leading international scorer with five goals while Perak’s Shahrel Fikri Fauzi has netted four times.
“It’s true that our league is dominated by foreign strikers and they are the top scorers,” said Tan. “But I always try to find options in local players coming to the national team.
“I always give them positive support because it’s not easy for them. I always give them encouragement so that they can perform for the national team.”
Malaysia have not beaten a side ranked in the top-100 in the Fifa rankings since December 2004 in a 2-1 win over Indonesia, then ranked 91st, in an AFF Cup semi-final in Jakarta.
Tan is likely to field the same line-up which faced Sri Lanka, with perhaps Mohamadou Sumareh replacing Akhyar Rashid, which means eight of the side who played against Vietnam in the AFF final second leg will take to the My Dinh pitch again.
Malaysia’s only win in Hanoi came in 2014 in a 4-2 success in a AFF Cup semi-final second leg but has since drawn one and lost three of four meetings at all venues.