Vietnamese football confident for the future
From being an average team in Southeast Asia (SEA) without a single SEA Games title, under the leadership of the Republic of Korea coach Park Hang-seo, Vietnam U23’s overcame many of the footballing powers in the region, including Australia, Iraq and Qatar, and fought bravely on a par with the overall champions Uzbekistan in the final during harsh weather conditions. The accomplishment is even more impressive and praiseworthy given that a lot of the favoured teams, such as Japan, China and Australia did not progress past the group stage.
When Vietnam U23’s produced their first miracle by beating Australia, Park Hang-seo affirmed that was only the beginning. Indeed, the RoK coach and his players later performed consecutive “earthquakes”, which struck the whole continent, with commanding victories against Iraq and Qatar in order to seal a final place against Uzbekistan and finish as the overall runners-up, alongside being awarded the Fair-play prize. In the mindset of the fans, Vietnam U23’s was considered weaker than most of the other opponents. Only coach Park Hang-seo showed his players that they were at the level to compete with the U23 teams from the RoK and Japan, which has been proved by Vietnam U23’s emotional journey in China. Uzbekistan coach Khaydarov, who led his players to resounding 4-0 and 4-1 wins over former champions Japan and 2016 finalists, the RoK, was also impressed by the extraordinary performance of Park’s side: “Vietnam U23’s is a strong team, possessing a very effective counterattacking strategy.”
Confronted by opponents with a physical advantage, Vietnam U23’s applied a patient counterattacking strategy, organising a resilient defence and making use of their opportunities to score goals. The greatest highlight in Vietnam’s defence was goalie Bui Tien Dung, who has proved himself as the best keeper in the history of Vietnamese football. In every match at the AFC tournament, Dung did not make any serious mistakes but shone brightly in a timely fashion during the two thrilling penalty shootouts, thus helping Park Hang-seo’s side to successfully deal with the Iraqi and Qatari challenges in the quarterfinal and semifinal, respectively. In addition, the exceptional form of midfielder Quang Hai was crucial to the team, with his eye-catching goals sending the fans into delirium. Vietnamese football lovers will never forget the best goal of the group stage as Quang Hai scored against the RoK team, followed by his two equalisers for Vietnam against Qatar in the semifinals, and especially the beautiful left-footed curler into the top left corner in the final clash with Uzbekistan.
Never before have the Vietnam U23 players won so much affection from the home fans. Such enthusiastic support is the most excellent gift that any player could wish for. And of course, in response to their ferocious support, the Vietnamese players demonstrated a brave and convincing fighting spirit in all their matches. It is a pity that the joy was not complete for Park Hang-seo and his players. In their first time playing in the snowy and extremely cold weather, Vietnam U23’s resisted bravely during the 120 minutes of play and only conceded an aggregate loss with just a few seconds left to go. Despite failing to lift the historic trophy, Park Hang-seo’s players have become the victors in the hearts of millions of Vietnamese football lovers with their brave fighting spirit until the last minute. Lines of people, with national flags, trumpets and drums in hand, marched across every region, from the city to the countryside, to celebrate and welcome Park Hang-seo and his players, which will be a big boost for the confidence of the Vietnamese players in the future.
Paul Murphy, a reporter from ESPN, made a subjective comment in an article published after the AFC U23 final, stating that Vietnam U23’s “had run out of luck”. However, if we look back at what the Vietnamese players did during their AFC campaign in China, it can be seen that Murphy’s comment may not accurately reflect reality. The second-place finish is quite worthy of Vietnam U23’s following their wholehearted sacrifices. The root of Vietnam’s success stems from the team’s thorough preparations. Park Hang-seo and his players had undergone a training regime and became more mature following their crucial encounters with strong opponents at the M-150 Cup friendly tournament in Thailand immediately before the AFC U23 Championship 2018, including one against the RoK. More importantly, Vietnam U23’s were led by Park Hang-seo, who not only helped to build the self-confidence and tactical understanding of the players, but also knew how to inspire a brave fighting spirit among them. In addition, Park is capable of “reading” a match well and demonstrated sharp tactical thinking, with effective changes made in throughout the matches, making Vietnam U23’s playing style more effective and resilient. One of the factors that cannot be ignored is that Vietnamese football is in the stage of reaping the benefits following years of investing in youth training.
Southeast Asia has long been seen as a “lowland” on the world and Asian footballing maps; however, Vietnam, a Southeast Asian team, have “climbed the cataract” to transform themselves into a “dragon” at this year’s AFC U23 competition. We are delighted with the exceptional results of Vietnam U23’s team, but in order to ensure the position of Vietnamese football at a continental level, further efforts must be exerted by the Vietnamese manager, club leaders, trainers and players. Immediately, Vietnamese football needs to perform successfully at the 2018 Asian Games, win the 2019 SEA Games trophy and gain better results at other continental and world arenas.
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