Striker Nguyen Van Toan has a chance to shine for the national team in the upcoming World Cup qualifiers thanks to his outstanding form in the V.League 1.
Striker Nguyen Van Toan of Hoang Anh Gia Lai seen in a recent match in the V.League 1. Photo: Docnhanh.com.vn
Previously, head coach of the Vietnamese team Park Hang-seo told the media that the best strikers in Việt Nam are Ha Duc Chinh, Nguyen Tien Linh and Nguyen Cong Phuong. Toan was conspicious by his abscense from the list.
Although Toan is a top domestic striker, the 25-year-old has struggled to replicate his form in international football.
Toan has been the top domestic striker in the V.League 1 for the past three years with 21 goals in 58 matches for Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL), but has not scored a single goal for the national team under the South Korean coach Park.
However, this could be the year he breaks through, as Toan is playing better than ever.
The Hai Duong province-born striker has scored seven goals in 12 league matches, making him the league's joint-top scorer.
Along with Phuong and midfielder Tran Minh Vuong, the HAGL trio has scored 17 goals, more than 10 other teams in the V.League 1.
In the past three years, when Toan scored 21 goals in 58 appearances, Linh nabbed 18 goals, Chinh scored eight and Phuong 12.
Toan brings more to a team than goals and before Thai coach Kiatisuk Senamuang took the helm at HAGL, he had a different role in the team.
Under coach South Korean Lee Tae-hoon, HAGL sat deep and relied on Toan and Jamaican Chevaughn Walsh for their attacking threat. When coach Duong Minh Ninh was in charge, HAGL played a possession-based game but kept rotating the attack. Whatever the style of play though, the coaches found a place for Toàn, who has always played at least 20 matches per season from 2016 to now.
However, for the national team, Toan is facing a goal drought. In 12 matches with 636 minutes lasting from the 2019 Asian Cup qualifiers, AFF Cup 2018, Asian Cup 2019, World Cup 2022 qualifiers and the King's Cup friendly tournament, Toan hasn’t scored once.
Toan's last goal for the national team was in a 1-1 draw with Afghanistan on March 28, 2017. His only goal under coach Park was against Syria in the 2018 ASIAD quarter-finals in the jersey of the Olympic team.
The forward was far from Park's first choice in 2018 and much of 2019. At the AFF Cup 2018, Toan suffered a serious injury so he played only 14 minutes and when he recovered, he struggled to get back on the pitch. In the Asian Cup 2019, Toan played only four matches from the bench with a total time of 122 minutes.
In the 2022 World Cup qualifiers, Toan has played all five matches, but that may have been as Phan Van Duc was injured.
According to pundit Vu Quang Huy, this mainly came from tactical factors.
“The Vietnamese team played in a 3-4-3 formation. It had three attackers, but Park always gave priority to tight play. Toan played as a striker but was mainly assigned to stick to the sideline to create space for his teammates. At this time, Toan was still in the process of getting experience, so it was difficult to ask him to score regularly,” said Huy.
Striker Nguyen Van Toan of Hoang Anh Gia Lai is best scorer in the V.League 1. Photo: Bungbinh.vn
For HAGL, Toan is shining and always creates trouble for his opponents thanks to his speed, skill and dribbling ability.
Perhaps what has hurt Toan's goal return most is having to play out wide for the national team, making his few chances harder to finish.
"Toan missed many chances which affected his confidence and made people feel that it was difficult for him to score," Huy said.
However, Thai coach Senamuang has opened a new chapter for Toan.
“I feel very happy and proud to work with Senamuang. He taught me the skills of a striker. So my technique has improved. I have improved clearly in many aspects. I am more confident when competing and feel that everything becomes easier,” said Toan.
Above all, the tactical innovation of Senamuang helped Toan get closer to the goal.
"Toan’s form and level are very high. He is currently the best player in Vietnam," Senamuang told media recently.
Striker Nguyen Van Toan trains with coach Park Hang-seo. Photo: Thanhnien.vn
The Thai “Zico” rarely offers up such strong praise without good reason.
The improvement of his finishing skills will give Toan confidence when competing with other strikers like Linh and Van Duc and may just lead to him getting a crucial goal for the national team next month.