Vietnamese footballing history has been rewritten by the country’s U23 team, which secured a place in the final of the Asian Football Confederation Under-23 (AFC U23) Championship on Tuesday thanks to a dramatic victory over Qatar.
With a 4-3 penalty shootout win after added time locked at 2-2, the team once again surprised Asian football fans, becoming the first Southeast Asian country to enter the final of the championship.
The Qatari team, which had won all its previous matches in the tournament, opened the scoreboard with a successful penalty in the first half. Vietnam however equalized halfway through the second half with a goal from Nguyen Quang Hai, the hero of the team’s victory over Australia in the group stage. The last few minutes of the second half saw Qatar take the lead, before Hai once again scored the equalizer for Vietnam to bring the match to extra time, which ended goalless.
In the penalty shootout, the Vietnamese team emerged victorious after successfully converting four out of its five penalty kicks, while keeper Bui Tien Dung managed to save two penalties from the Qatari side.
“There’s nothing to doubt, they are our warriors,” Vietnam’s coach Park Hang-seo said after the victory in Changzhou, China. “Before the match, we promised ourselves we won’t let the Vietnamese fans down. And we made it.”
“Vietnam deserves the final,” said Qatari team’s coach Felix Sanchez. “Vietnam has proven that they are a highly capable team. They did they best to win and I send them my congratulations.”
Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc personally called the team to congratulate them, saying this historic win is very meaningful for the country.
Vietnam will face Uzbekistan on January 27 after the latter defeated South Korea 4-1 at extra time on Tuesday.
Before the match, Vietnam’s coach Park Hang-seo was hopeful but cautious, with Qatar widely seen as the stronger team. “Though we are aware that it’s going to be a hard game, we still have a great belief that we can win. Belief is what has brought us here,” said the coach.
“We fight for Vietnamese supporters, for Vietnam. I think the fighting spirit is one of the most best weapon of Vietnam [team],” said Vientnamese U23 team captain Luong Xuan Truong ahead of the semifinal. “I think the tactics from the head coaching staff are good preparations of VFF [Vietnam Football Federation. And the solidarity of the team [is also the team’s greatest strength].”
The country’s national U23 team qualified for the semifinals on Saturday thanks to a dramatic victory over Iraq.
Earlier, Vietnam also became the first Southeast Asian team to achieve a group stage victory by defeating Australia, and one of the first teams from the region to reach the quarterfinals together with Malaysia.
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