City Boys head coach Bojan is clear of the task that lays ahead for his side when they travel to the Thong Nat Stadium in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) later tonight for the AFC Cup ASEAN Zone semi-final encounter against Vietnam’s Viettel FC.
Viettel, who are based in Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi, about 1,700km away from Saigon, have been using the Thong Nhat Stadium for their AFC Cup matches this season and have been in scintillating form when playing here, having won all their fixtures here during the group stage qualification last June, the only team to do so in the ASEAN Zone, in a quartet also containing Singapore’s Hougang United, Phnom Penh Crown from Cambodia and Young Elephants of Laos. They also bagged the most goals in this zone, scoring 11 in their three fixtures, twice hitting five goals against Young Elephants and Hougang United and conceding only two goals, both to the Singaporeans. In the domestic scene though, they are currently in 7th position in the 13 team V-League 1 after 10 matches, having registered 4 wins and 5 losses, with 1 draw. In their actual home in the nation’s capital, they have a win-loss record of 2-3, while away from Hanoi, it’s been 2 wins and 2 losses, with their only draw coming here.
Addressing the members of the media in an almost inaudible recording of the pre-match press conference, Bojan explained what the City Boys would be facing in the shape of The Red Tornado as Viettel is affectionately known as.
“(They are) one of the best team(s) in Vietnam, a lot of good players, and national players. They are playing at home, so of course they will be favourites. Viettel is a good team, attack well. Good foreigners and a few younger guys who are good. It will be a tough match but we will do our best and get a positive result.”
Speaking about the City Boys’ situation, the Croatian was pleased with the recovery of a number of players.
“We had a few injuries, suspensions and now some of these players like Zhafri, Ryan are coming back. Kenny can play in the AFC Cup, Paulo Josue is now much fitter than before. We will be much stronger tomorrow (today).”
Later that day, in a video interview by a leading football portal, Harimau Malaya, Bojan when asked about the preparation for the big game, answered,
“The only problem is that the weather here (in Ho Chi Minh City) is raining everyday, so the pitch has gone really soft and it is not easy to arrange training. But the last 3, 4 days was actually good in the hotel; it was good bonding between the guys and they understand the weakness(es) and the strength(s) of the opponent, we shared this with players. So the only thing is once the game starts, many things can happen, I hope they will implement all these things that we want to win this game. I never promise that we will win but the only thing we can promise is that we will fight tomorrow.”
Explaining the challenge the City Boys are up against in the form of The Red Tornado, Bojan said,
“I watched their last 8 games. They lost their last two matches 1-0. But this was more because of poor finishing. In the last few matches, they create(d) (plenty of) chances. Maybe they didn’t have really good results in their league in the last few matches (as) they are also affected by injury problems while having many matches. But they are a very strong team, they have a very good squad with Vietnam national players and it will be a very tough match for us.”
Bojan also detailed the cause of the injury & fitness issues that recently plagued the squad especially with lesser used players since the FA Cup defeat by Selangor to last week’s painful loss to Johor DT in the league.
“There are always Injuries in football, but our problem is players who didn’t play regularly, they don’t understand that they need to work extra. When you are not playing, you need to have extra work. So when they got chance, many of them were not ready. They play(ed) one match, second match they are already tired, (then) they are injured. So this was one of the issues we had. Now they understand better. We’re a team with a very small squad, sometimes even when 1 or 2 players go missing, you can feel it. In our last match, we missed 8 players.”
He refused to lift the lid on his line-up for tomorrow’s match, keeping his selection choices open as late as possible, however, he did mention the personality of Kenny that could see him gain his first start since the AFC Cup group stage do or die victory over Tampines Rovers last June.
“I didn’t decide yet, because in AFC competitions i can only play 4 foreign players and we have basically 5 that we use in our league, (and we have) 2 extra from before because Kevin (Koubemba) who’s deregistered in the (Super) league (is available) and we have Kyrian who came back after injury. I didn’t decide if I’ll play with foreign goalkeeper or local goalkeeper, and I didn’t decide who to plays striker. Jordan’s improved, he looks good, but we also have Kyrian, we also have Romel, so this gives me options probably I will decide after today’s training.”
“Kenny is one good spirit in our team, he has one fighting spirit also, so he with Akram, GG (Gallifuoco), for us they are the ones that give (the) fighting spirit, they are the ones who give good vibrations in the dressing room. So it’s important that he’s back especially (in a) match vs (against a) Vietnam(ese) team that is very tough and we need fighters like him.”
The AFC Cup ASEAN Zonal Semi-final between Viettel and Kuala Lumpur City is on Wednesday, August 10, 2022, at 6.00pm local time (1900hrs Malaysian timr), at the Thong Nhat Stadium, District 10, Saigon.
Tickets for the AFC Cup match against Viettel is available at the venue (physical purchase only).
For our City Boys back home in Malaysia, please tune in to Astro Arena 2, to catch the match live.