AFC Asian Cup: How Vietnam became a force in Asian football


AFC Asian Cup: How Vietnam became a force in Asian football
Vietnam team during a practice session.

Dubai - The football-mad country has made big progress in recent years

By Rituraj Borkakoty

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Published: Wed 23 Jan 2019, 9:32 PM

Last updated: Thu 24 Jan 2019, 11:55 AM

For a country that often looks up to Japan for footballing inspiration, Vietnam will attempt to steal the Samurai Blue's thunder on Thursday.
The football-mad country has made big progress in recent years. Such is the impact of their current national team that Nguyen Quang Hai, their 21-year-old midfielder whose stunning free-kick against Yemen evoked comparisons with Lionel Messi, has now become a national icon.
But many in the country owe their recent success to Japan. The Vietnamese follow Japan's football model - a model that has earned Japan four Asian Cup titles and six straight World Cup berths.
Vietnam has their own World Cup ambitions. Having qualified for the Fifa under 20 World Cup for the first time in 2017, the Vietnamese now eye the big one.
With Fifa expanding the World Cup to 48 teams from 2026, Asia will have eight-and-a-half slots, giving countries like Vietnam a shot in the arm.
Vietnam has invested massively on academies which have produced players like Quang Hai and Nguyen Cong Phuong, a 24-year-old striker who was born into a poor family in a poor province. But Phuong is now one of the richest footballers in the country.
The success of their academies and youth system is the reason behind the rise of their current national team.
But Park Hang-seo, their South Korean head coach, believes Vietnam still needs to do more if it wants to sustain its success on football pitch.
"Now Vietnam is developing economically, so their football is also developing," Park said ahead of his team's AFC Asian Cup quarterfinal clash against Japan.
"But still the system is not perfect. They still have got work to do in my opinion."
Park paid rich tribute to his predecessor Toshiya Miura, the Japanese coach, for building the current Vietnam national team.
"For me, it's been a year with the team. I think Miura deserves lot of credit. Before I joined, he built this team. He really worked hard. And I am thankful that Vietnam then gave me the opportunity to coach their national team," he said.
But question marks remain over Park's future as he has reportedly become a target for several top South Korean clubs following his success with Vietnam.
It remains to be seen if Vietnam could hold on to Park, who also guided Vietnam to the AFC Under 23 Asian Cup final and Asian Games semifinals in 2018.
If his team go on to upset Japan on Thursday, Park will become an even bigger name in South Korea.
"Tomorrow's game for Vietnam is tough, but it's also an opportunity. Many pundits have predicted a Japan win. Yes, our possibility of winning is very low, but our players will fight until the last minute," the 60-year-old coach said.

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