The United States Women’s National Team is set to begin the 2023 Women’s World Cup, looking to claim a third consecutive title. Vlatko Andonovski’s side was drawn into Group E alongside the Netherlands, Portugal, and Vietnam. While alphabetically last, the Asian opponent is first on the schedule, as both parties attempt to start the journey on the proper foot. The match is scheduled for Auckland’s Eden Park, a 50,000-seat arena constructed in 1900 that is primarily used for rugby.
This is the first-ever meeting between the two nations. Ranked 32nd internationally by FIFA, Vietnam the reached the 2022 AFC Women’s Asian Cup by defeating the Maldives, 16-0, and Tajikistan, 7-0. At the tournament in India, Những Nữ Chiến Binh Sao Vàng (Golden Star Women Warriors) finished third in Group C with a single point and continued to the knockout rounds on goal differential. After falling to eventual champions China in the quarterfinal, victories against Thailand (2-0) and Chinese Taipei (2-1) in the playoff secured a ticket to the World Cup. In the lead-up, the squad has played an aggressive slate of friendlies and competitive matches, including claiming a gold medal at the 2023 Southeast Asian Games and an intriguing 2-1 defeat to Germany.
Vietnam is led by 72-year-old Mai Đức Chung, a versatile former international-level player who was appointed to lead the program for a fourth time in 2016. His lengthy résumé includes stints at several club sides and a brief interim term in charge of the men’s team. Prior to the tournament, he focused on improving the squad’s “speed and fitness” in order to “increase the ability to put pressure on the opponent.”
Mai Đức Chung entered the tournament on a sanguine tenor. “The draw results put the Vietnamese women’s team in the group against the world’s No. 1 and No. 2 teams, the US and the Netherlands,” he shared with Tuổi Trẻ. “However, I think this is good news, not bad news. The reason is because normally we hardly have the opportunity to face the top teams in the world like that. When playing with them, we will be able to open our eyes and learn many things. Vietnam may lose in terms of qualifications because we are ranked 33rd in the world, and the US is number 1, but we cannot lose to them in terms of bravery and will to fight.”
After the afternoon training session on July 1st, Coach Mai Duc Chung and his assistants had discussions and reached an agreement on the final list of 23 players who will travel to New Zealand to participate in the 2023 Women's World Cup.— Vietnam sports news (@VNSportsnews) July 2, 2023
With a total of 23 registered players… pic.twitter.com/FD249ndbPw
Mai Đức Chung named a 23-player roster for the World Cup with an average age of 26.95 years old. Outside of one call-up, the entire squad is based in the domestic Vietnamese Women’s Football Championship. As noted by The Guardian, there are zero naturalized or overseas-born members of the group, which runs counter to many international programs.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Đào Thị Kiều Oanh (Hanoi), Trần Thị Kim Thanh (Ho Chi Minh City), Khổng Thị Hằng (Than KSVN)
DEFENDERS (9): Lương Thị Thu Thương (Than KSVN), Chương Thị Kiều (Ho Chi Minh City), Trần Thị Thu (Ho Chi Minh City), Hoàng Thị Loan (Hanoi), Trần Thị Thúy Nga (Thai Nguyen T&T), Trần Thị Hải Linh (Hanoi), Lê Thị Diễm My (Than KSVN), Trần Thị Thu Thảo (Ho Chi Minh City), Nguyễn Thị Mỹ Anh (Thai Nguyen T&T)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Nguyễn Thị Tuyết Dung (Phong Phu Ha Nam), Trần Thị Thùy Trang (Ho Chi Minh City), Thái Thị Thảo (Hanoi), Dương Thị Vân (Than KSVN), Nguyễn Thị Thanh Nhã (Hanoi), Ngân Thị Vạn Sự (Hanoi), Nguyễn Thị Bích Thùy (Ho Chi Minh City)
FORWARDS (4): Huỳnh Như (Länk Vilaverdense), Phạm Hải Yến (Hanoi), Nguyễn Thị Thúy Hằng (Than KSVN), Vũ Thị Hoa (Hanoi)
Mai Đức Chung utilizes a 4-4-2 formation, although a five-player back line could be deployed in tournament play against prolific opponents. The hope is to quickly transition from defense into the attack, perhaps through a mid-press and utilizing the pacy wingers. “I want our athletes to coordinate quickly on two-thirds of the field, defend tight, and counter-attack quickly,” he told Tiền Phong. “When we win the ball, we have to attack quickly on the opponent’s field.”
The presumed number one at goalkeeper is Trần Thị Kim Thanh, standing 5’5” yet possessing the athleticism to hold her own in the box on set piece opportunities. The 29-year-old competes with Hồ Chí Minh City I and has claimed seven of the past eight domestic titles. She is brave when coming off of her line and uses every possible second to cut off the opponent’s angle, pushing rebounds away into safe areas with good strength. When faced with low, hard shots, her instinct is to shift into a pragmatic kick-save, getting the job done by any means necessary.
Trần Thị Thu Thảo finds herself in the middle of the action and steps forward to disrupt passing lanes. The Hồ Chí Minh City I defender is calm under pressure, deciding whether to locate a teammate or make the safe decision by dumping the ball up the field. Her likely partner is also her club teammate, Chương Thị Kiều, who scored a crucial goal against Chinese Taipei in the deciding fixture at the Women’s Asian Cup. She fearlessly throws herself into tackles and regularly goes to ground, serving as the more physical performer in the centre-back duet.
The likely starter at left fullback is Hoàng Thị Loan of Hà Nội I, looking to contain the opponent and wait for a numerical advantage instead of making rash challenges. The 28-year-old tends to stay home and acts as an emergency defender to chase counter-attackers. On the other side of the back line is Than KSVN’s Lương Thị Thu Thương, a versatile defender who can also play on the inside. She is a fairly-accurate long passer and hits an incisive diagonal cross from outside of the box.
One of the squad’s veterans, Trần Thị Thùy Trang has competed for Hồ Chí Minh City I since 2008 and made her senior international debut two years later. The 34-year-old from Đại Lộc has become more of an attacking weapon over the past few years, but her bread-and-butter remains aggressive ball-winning and bringing down opposing dribblers. Complementing the midfield pairing is Thái Thị Thảo of Hà Nội I, who has also competed in the past with the Vietnam Women’s National Futsal Team. The “safe choice” is described as “very hardworking” with “an industrious style of play,” willing to engage in challenges and “has the ability to launch shots from outside of the penalty area.”
Nguyễn Thị Tuyết Dung of Phong Phú Hà Nam is one of the program’s most-decorated performers, twice winning the Vietnamese Women’s Golden Ball. She has scored over 50 international goals, using her low center of gravity to establish positioning and pouncing on loose-ball opportunities. Lining up at right wing is Nguyễn Thị Bích Thùy, described as the “hero” who helped secure World Cup qualification. The 29-year-old looks to cut inside and get on the end of passes, finding herself in advantageous spots when not firing in crosses from the wing.
The front-line is led by an experienced and prolific striker duo. Phạm Hải Yến competes with Hà Nội I, scoring five goals last season during a second-place finish in the league. She looks to get on the end of crosses and long passes, displaying a willingness to fight for every inch against defenders. In addition to being a regular at the top of the formation, Huỳnh Như is notable for being the first female Vietnamese player to head abroad and the program’s all-time leading scorer as well as a five-time Golden Ball winner. The 31-year-old competes with Länk FC Vilaverdense in the first division of Portugal, displaying similar strength in the air and has a delicate touch in the box to open up space, noted for being able to “shoot well with either foot.”
The USWNT has a clear talent advantage and is expected to open the tournament with three points. Vietnam is a growing program on the upswing and should benefit from the mere first participation in the World Cup, with the manager on the record as not “setting high ambitions” but looking to “learn a lot.” The underdogs may be able to escape with a draw if the match stays goalless, but they are unlikely to go blow-for-blow in a high-scoring battle.
The match is scheduled for Friday, July 21st at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, 6:00 p.m. Pacific. Viewing options include FOX, Telemundo, Peacock, and FUBO TV (free trial).