Viet Nam have made international headlines after they secured a berth in the final of the Asian Confederation U-23 Championship.
Midfielder Phan Van Duc of Viet Nam (left) vies for a ball against Bassar Al-rawi of Qatar in the AFC U23 Championship’s semi-final match. — Photo vtin.vn
Their route to a possible gold-medal is amazing as the team is made of incredible members.
The first special one must be head coach Park Hang-seo whose nickname is ‘Sleeping One’ due to his sitting position on the bench during matches.
Park took charge of the Vietnamese squad in early October last year after the team failed to make the final of the Southeast Asian Games in Malaysia.
He did not convince too many Vietnamese of his prowess due to his CV. Park had an unimpressive career as a player before he moved to work as a coach.
The local media worked hard on finding out who he was but the information about him was sketchy. Even midfielder Lương Xuân Trường, who played in South Korea for two years, did not know him.
Việt Nam was the first national senior team he was taking over. He was well-known for his position as coach assistant to Guss Hiddink at the South Korean national team during the 2002 World Cup.
In the same year, he led the South Korean U-23 team to a bronze medal at the Asian Games.
Before coming to Viet Nam he had taken charge of Changwon FC who finished sixth in the South Korean National League’s third-tier last year.
However, in just three months, he has brought about a great change in the team and altered people’s thinking.
Park spent his time watching players in the domestic leagues as well as their video clips. He also talked with his assistants to find out their advantages and disadvantages to place them in suitable positions.
Vietnamese players always ran out of confidence when playing in international competitions but Park thought differently and infused confidence in his players through his training methods.
The South Korean also rejected the idea that his players had a poor physique. He said they would work well if they knew how to distribute their energy suitably. Vietnamese players competed in two 120-minute matches in a row and they won.
He also ended the lack of confidence his players had when facing bigger and taller rivals.
“After the first half with Qatar, Viet Nam were trailing 0-1. Park shouted at the players because they were losing confidence. He woke them up, he encouraged them and they encouraged each other. The old man is an endless source of inspiration for the youngsters. He is really an experienced mastermind,” said Lê Huy Khoa, Park’s language assistant.
Park was not given any target in the Asian tournament but he was confident enough to say that his team would do something special.
During five matches in China, all of his decisions of using players and changing tactics and formation against different rivals worked very well.
Park won the people’s hearts with his simple and friendly style when talking with players and reporters. He cried three times in happiness when his team overcame big challenges during the tournament.
And Viet Nam is now in the final!
“Park helps us believe in ourselves and always sets the determination at the highest level. He played a key role in our success today. We must thank him for what he has delivered to us,” goalkeeper Bui Tien Dung said.
Stars of the team
They must be midfielder Nguyen Quang Hai and goalkeeper Dung.
Their names have become top searches on the Internet after their outstanding performances.
Hai has so far scored four goals in Viet Nam’s seven and he ranks second in the top scorer chart behind Almoez Ali of Qatar with six.
His first goal in a group round match against South Korea was voted the most beautiful one at that stage. Meanwhile, the second goal Hai scored in a match against Qatar on Tuesday was said to be the best of the tournament so far by local experts.
“We should say thank you to him for his skilful legs. His goals were beautiful. It resulted from hard work by a great player,” said Tran Quoc Tuan , vice president of the Viet Nam Football Federation.
Coach Hoang Anh Tuan of the U-19 team, of which Hai used to be a member, said Hai was at the continental level now. His smart tackles in different situations showed his dynamic, flexible and decisive thinking. He was his own player, but under coach Park he shone much more.
“Hai’s curling finish in the Qatar game should be the best goal of this year’s tournament,” said the chairman of the National Coaching Council Nguyen Sy Hien who was too moved to talk in a television commentary on Tuesday.
Hai was known as ‘king of titles’ as he has collected almost titles of national tournaments.
After years of training at the Hanoi T&T football centre, he grabbed his first trophy at the national U-21 championship in 2013 at the age of 16. He then secured the U-17 and U-19 titles together with awards for best players of these tournaments in the next year. He then earned another U-19 and two U-21 titles in the following years.
Currently, Hai is a key player of former V. League champion Hanoi FC where he now becomes an idol for his senior teammate Pham Thanh Luong. Luong, the former national player, was Hai’s idol when he was a little boy.
“In the past, you admired me, now I have become your fan,” Lương wrote on his Facebook page after the semi-final match.
Meanwhile, goalkeeper Dung of the U-23 team said, “People said that it took nearly 100 years for Viet Nam to have a player such as Hai, I am proud of being his teammate.”
Dũng was another hero for Viet Nam in the shootout as he kept out efforts from South Korean, Iraqi and Qatari players in three matches.
According to statistics, Dung also denied penalties to players of Japan, France and Thailand in the continental tournament and World Cup.
Before becoming the No 1 keeper of the current club FLC Thanh Hóa and the U-23 team, Dung struggled to train to be the footballer he dreamed of becoming.
Born in a poor family in Thanh Hoa Province, Dung sometimes thought of quitting football to work as a coolie to support his parents. However, he overcame his difficulties to follow his dream. Dung first trained as a midfielder but for some unexpected reasons became a goalkeeper.
But it seemed to be the right position for the 1.81m-tall player who has a habit of writing a diary after each match to remind him of his mistakes.
“I still have many things to do. I will try my best to help my team go as far as possible for the pride of Viet Nam,” he said.
Midfielder Phan Văn Đức, also a name to remember as the 22-year-old, was called to the squad in the last moment ahead of the tournament.
After entering the field for two matches as a substitute, he earned his place in the last three matches and impressed people with his performance. According to statistics, Đức has the highest number of on-target shootings, with one goal in the quarter-final, highest accurate tackles and two assists that converted into goals for Viet Nam.
He can play well in different positions thanks to his speed, ability to ‘read’ the game and a smart tactical mind, according to coach Nguyen Duc Thang of Song Lam Nghe An FC where Đức belongs.
Football expert Nguyen Thanh Vinh said Duc was confident in every game. Despite his small physique, he was strong and never afraid of taking on the big rivals. His shooting skills were really good and he was a smart goal hunter.
Viet Nam are just one match away from the Asian championship for the first time in their history. The giant-killer’s task is to shoot down Uzbekistan, another powerhouse, in the final match on Saturday. — VNS
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