Vietnam still the team to beat at AFF Suzuki Cup 2020 after crushing Malaysia

If anyone needed a reminder of Vietnam's credentials at AFF Suzuki Cup 2020, especially after a less-than-convincing opening display, they duly delivered one on Sunday evening.

In a rematch of the 2018 final they emerged triumphant in, the defending champions were absolutely dominant as they claimed a 3-0 victory over Malaysia.

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First-half goals from Nguyen Quang Hai and Nguyen Cong Phuong put Vietnam firmly in control of proceedings, before Nguyen Hoang Duc added a third a minute from time to seal a handsome win.

As impressive as the margin of victory was the way they controlled proceedings from start to finish, which was an area where they have been on the receiving end of flak in recent times -- albeit a rather harsh criticism given their games ahead of the Suzuki Cup had all been against stronger opposition in the final round of Asian qualifiers for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Nonetheless, Vietnam coach Park Hang-seo refused to be drawn into whether they had issued a statement of intent with the result.

"I think this is a difficult question," Park responded to ESPN. "It's not something as easy as saying we have the strongest team.

"But I believe in my players. They played well and I'm satisfied with winning this match. As for the assessment of Vietnam's standing in the tournament, I will leave that to others."

Meanwhile, Malaysia coach Tan Cheng Hoe conceded that his team were just not at the same level as their winless streak against the Vietnamese was extended to a 7th game -- which has included six losses.

And to make matters worse for Harimau Malaya given their ranks have already been reduced by positive COVID-19 cases, Aidil Zafuan, Syafiq Ahmad and Shahrul Saad all had to replaced due to injuries.

This could leave them with just 16 fully-fit players for their final Group B game against Indonesia on Dec. 19 even with the impending arrival of Dion Cools, although three of those who had tested positive for COVID-19 have since been discharged.

"In the first half, we were a bit too casual but also too cautious. The problem was that we couldn't maintain the ball possession that we normally do," said Tan.

"We gave Vietnam too much respect. Our boys fought hard but it was very tough and unfortunately we lost to the better team.

"We have a lot of big lessons to learn after this match. Hopefully, we can do so and prepare for Indonesia."