Vietnam were made to work hard for the victory but nonetheless got their title defence off to a winning start at the 2020 AFF Suzuki Cup as they saw off Laos 2-0 at Bishan Stadium in Singapore.

Goals in either half from Nguyen Cong Phuong and Phan Van Duc were enough for a Vietnam side that also saw a second half penalty saved by the impressive Keo-Oudone Souvannasangso as Laos held their more fancied opponents in check for long spells of the match.

The team’s Korean coach, Park Hang-seo, wasn’t getting carried away with the win as he prepares for further stern challenges in the group stage.

“I’m satisfied with the result because we had some injuries and had to change some players but it’s too early to answer how we played before we have a chance to analyse things fully," said Park. 

“The important thing now is to rest and recover and prepare ourselves for an important match against Malaysia next.”

As expected, Vietnam dominated possession and chances but it took them a while to break down a well organised Laos side and it wasn’t until midway through the first half when they took full advantage as a delightful ball over the top from Luong Xuan Truong found Nguyen Phong Hong Duy who sent a ball across the face of goal from the left that a sliding Cong Phuong tucked home at the back post in the 26th minute.

Van Duc had a half chance from a corner in the 40th minute as his effort was well saved by goalkeeper Souvannasangso and after Nguyen Tien Linh pushed a header wide of the target in the 45th minute that was the way that the opening half ended with Vietnam taking that slender lead to the break.

It took the defending champions just ten minutes after the restart to double their advantage as a cross from the right from Ho Tan Tai was met by Van Duc whose downward header found its way past the Laos 'keeper at his near post to make it 2-0.

Laos had a rare sight of goal as their star debutant forward Billy Ketkeophomphone sent a header from a free kick straight at goalkeeper Tran Nguyen Manh in the 64th minute before the same player then had the best chance of the game for Team Xat as he fired a one-on-one effort straight at the 'keeper on the end of a long counter.

Vietnam then blew a chance to extend their lead as substitute Vu Van Thanh saw his 75th penalty saved smartly to his right by Souvannasangso in the Laos goal after his earlier shot had come off the hand of Chitpasong Latthachack.

Van Thanh had a rasping strike from range tipped over the bar in the 85th minute in what was the final effort of a clash that saw a competitive showing from Laos, one that pleased their coach V. Selvaraj.

“I’m very proud of the performance because we played a superior side that is playing at the highest level," he said. 

“We knew that we needed to stick to the plan and we executed it very well, hit them on the counter and created two or three chances in a spirited performance.”