Midfielder Nguyen Hoang Duc is developing into an irreplaceable player in the national team with his talent and football intelligence that essays a good balance of offense and defense.
In the six games that Vietnam played in the final round of the World Cup qualifiers, only two were fielded every single minute: captain Que Ngoc Hai and Duc. It’s worth noting that Duc had only made his national team debut in June.
Looking at the quality of Duc’s style of play and his progress over the past three years, it’s not surprising that head coach Park Hang-seo considers him as one of the most important players in the team.
The numbers don’t lie. In the most recent six games for Vietnam, Duc had the most passes (220), successful tackles (15) and successful dribbles (17). On average, he made 2.8 successful dribbles per game (65 percent), according to sports performance analysis company InStat.
These stats are proof of Duc’s value, which are the ability to keep tight possession, great ball control and distribution. It created a difference between the 23-year-old and other midfielders in the national team. As Vietnam often plays counter-attacking football, Duc’s ability to accelerate quickly with the ball is one of the most valuable tools that Park has used to switch from defense to offense with ease.
After key midfielder Do Hung Dung couldn’t play for the national team in 2020 due to a fractured shinbone, Duc has filled his place in the role of a player who controls the tempo of the game and becomes the switch from defense to offense with his special set of skills.
Duc will have more opportunities to showcase his talent in the upcoming AFF Cup. He has already proved to be lethal against Southeast Asian teams. For instance, during a World Cup qualifying game back in June, he dribbled for nearly 50m past four opponents before making a sophisticated pass.
Nguyen Hoang Duc dribbles past defenders before making a pass to his teammate in the World Cup qualifying games against Malaysia on June 11, 2021.
The Viettel FC player has also done a good job as a deep-lying midfielder. The number of successful long passes he made in six games of the final World Cup qualifying round is greater than other midfielders like Luong Xuan Truong, Nguyen Tuan Anh and Pham Duc Huy combined.
Originally an attacking midfielder, Duc was asked to play as a ball carrier in both Viettel and the national team. He adapted to the role and completed himself.
His contributions are not only the explosive dribbles across the field vertically but also the highly accurate lofted passes. One prime example is his assist for right-back Ho Tan Tai to score in the October game against China – an inch-perfect long pass that completely bypassed the defenders.
Hoang Duc makes an accurate long pass to Ho Tan Tai in the World Cup qualifiers against China on October 8, 2021.
The defensive capability of Duc is also one of the factors that have solidified his spot in the team. Only three center-backs – Ngoc Hai, Do Duy Manh and Nguyen Thanh Chung – have won back possession more than Duc in the final round of World Cup qualifiers. Only Hai and Manh had more interceptions than Duc, and they are all defenders.
If coach Park has a dedicated Duc Huy for a more defensive approach, a Xuan Truong for controlling the tempo, a diligent and quiet Tuan Anh for ball recovery, or a Nguyen Quang Hai for explosive attacks, then Duc offers all of the above. Not only good at dribbling and changing the tempo, but Duc can also read the game well and be really effective in defense. This version of Duc made him different from other options in the midfield of the national team.
Duc’s three-year transformation has been something to behold. For a young player with little experience, he quickly became bolder and braver in one on one situations and kept being assigned more important playing roles at his club.
The V. League has fashioned a Duc who is not only excellent at controlling the ball at his feet but also fierce and tough in the midfield, along with great off-ball movement.
In V. League 2021, Duc put on a splendid performance in both offense and defense. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Viettel player is currently one of the best in the league. It is rare for a central midfielder in the V. League to have such comprehensive skills like Duc.
All positions that Hoang Duc made his passes in the final round of World Cup. Graphics by VnExpress/Thanh Vu
At the national level, Duc only joined the team in June, but he’s already the face of the next generation of young players.
When Vietnam U23 won the SEA Games 30 gold medal in 2019, Duc was the only player who started in all seven games. He was a key player in the midfield, creating many chances for his teammates and having some shining moments himself.
Since then, coach Park has eyed him for a spot in the national team and he has proved to be worthy of it. Duc has become a regular starter and ready to take on any task or play different roles in different systems.
No one plays in more positions than Duc in the national team. In the past six games, he has played as a central midfielder, attacking midfielder and anchorman. He can fit into any tactical setup of coach Park and this is one of the reasons why he has played every single minute of the last six games.
With Duc, Park can switch formations during the game without having to make too many changes. The young midfielder has shown his talent in every position that he played and executed his tasks almost flawlessly.
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