Despite being eliminated from World Cup 2022 contention, Vietnam can still end the hopes of China making it to the tournament when they host them on Tuesday at My Dinh National Stadium.
The Golden Star Warriors are pointless in this qualification round, losing 4-0 to Australia in their previous fixture, while the Chinese were blanked 2-0 away to Japan, and currently sit in fifth, with five points.
Although their aspirations of making the finals will soon come to an end, there are still some positives that Park Hang-Seo and his Vietnamese team can take away from this experience moving forward.
This group won five fixtures to arrive at this stage, which is more victories than the national side have ever accumulated in a single World Cup qualifying campaign, a sign that maybe the program is making progress.
Since November, this team have struggled in front of goal, failing to score in six of their last nine matches played in all competitions, including their previous three qualifiers.
On their home field, they have done a better job at limiting their opponents opportunities, losing 1-0 to Japan, Australia and Saudi Arabia last year.
On Thursday, their defence struggled to contain the Aussies, suffering their worst defeat since being thumped 8-1 by Manchester City in a friendly back in 2015.
They managed to give the Chinese a late scare in their previous encounter in October, scoring twice in the final 10 minutes to even that match at two, before the Dragon’s Team broke their hearts with a goal in the 95th minute.
It is now or never for China, who must win their remaining three contests, to have any hope of making it to the finals for the first time since 2002.
Li Xiaopeng took over this side from Li Tie in December, and his first match in charge was a tough one to watch as his players failed to fire a single shot on target and had only 37% possession, managing a pass accuracy of 67%.
The results have not been going their way in the third round, but the Chinese are still competing hard and making it difficult for the other teams in their group, suffering two defeats by a single goal and squandering a second-half lead to Oman in November, in a 1-1 draw.
China have conceded eight goals in their last three road fixtures, allowing 18 shots on target over that stretch, while failing to fire a shot on goal in two of those encounters.
They hold a 100% record versus Vietnam, winning all seven meetings against them, many of which were lopsided results, outscoring them by a total of 23-5.
Throughout this campaign, China have been heavily dependent on one or two players, who have drawn a lot of attention, but still managed to deliver some solid performances, although their lack of depth at every position is part of the reason why they are long shots to advance into the next round, trailing the Socceroos by nine points.
Vietnam World Cup Qualifying – Asia form:
Vietnam form (all competitions):
China World Cup Qualifying – Asia form:
We say: Vietnam 1-3 China
Vietnam might be playing with less pressure than China, knowing that there is nothing at stake for them, but the Chinese have more experience and individual quality than their opponents, who cannot seem to do much more than keep a game close for a while.