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​​Vietnam’s U23s - hope of the nation

Tuesday, February 06, 2018, 17:17 GMT+7

What a little battle! Vietnam’s humble Under-23s are playing in the Asian cup final!  For the first time! Ever! Yayyy!

Australian’s stop for a horse race in November, Americans stop for their ‘Gridiron’ football Super bowl in February and Vietnam stops anytime their national football teams’ look like winning a major game!

This Saturday’s final in the AFC U23 Championship in China is going to be a down and out slug-fest.  With the Vietnamese lads now in unbeatable confidence and gaining so much valuable experience it’s going to be a hellva of a game to watch.  Glad I’m not there to see it in person – it will be freezing!

Personally I hate all forms of sport because I believe it simply wears your heart out faster and I hate people laughing at me since I’m hopeless at games.  I hold the Guinness record for losing any sort of game except Monopoly.

However it’s fun to watch people get so worked up about kicking a football back and forth, often without a result, in a pub environment where the beer releases more stress than the actual game. I witnessed the World Cup football hysteria in South Korea in 2002, particularly after South Korea beat Italy. Six million people on the streets of Seoul is quite a sight!

Vietnam’s Under-23 soccer team is on a roll, playing in the Asian cup, the team has now thrashed Australia in the first round (not hard to do…Australia is just not that good!) and then a draw against Syria. The next game after that, a nail-biter that went all the way versus Iraq (a fairly good team, I was told) that the Vietnamese won in utter joy.  The young upstarts now challenge Qatar (sometimes weak, sometimes very tough!) in the semi-finals of the Cup.

Although it’s odd to say that it doesn’t matter if they win or lose because they’re making history and demonstrating what is possible in world class competitions, the whole nation will probably come to a halt on Saturday, the 27th of January, 2018 as the final match kicks off. It’s not uncommon to wait ten minutes more for your order in a café on those days Vietnam plays against a regional foe and all the staff are carrying food and drinks with one eye on the telly.  I’ll be watching it with a beer and a notepad and ear-plugs.

The Vietnamese teams, at least, the U23’s and the women show great promise and the next few years will hopefully bring that to fruition. As famous Hoi An expat international writer, Deborah Nolan, pointed out, the Vietnamese Women’s teams are the regional champions and even Wikipedia points out they have become the most powerful Southeast Asian team since 2000.

You’ll often hear the joke that if you want a cheap TV, car or house in Vietnam, wait until after Vietnam has played a football fame as many Vietnamese lose heavily on gambling on these games.

As I will sit down for the first half, strange views on the television screen as half the stadium looks empty will occur but given how difficult and expensive it would be for supporters from both Vietnam and Qatar to travel to Changzhou, China, it’s not surprising. And it’s bitterly cold there too – not the best motivation for fans! However quite a good crowd of about 300 or more Vietnamese supporters is expected.

I hope it doesn’t come down to penalty shoot-outs again.  I couldn’t stand the suspense on Tuesday’s game and I have no more fingernails left to bite.

One thing did annoy me when an expat on Facebook said Qatar was the ‘world’s worse team’.  What was he expecting?  And was he implying that the Vietnamese youngsters were not that good either?

Firstly, no-one expects the skills of David Beckham or Wayne Rooney – this is the Under-23’s – still learning their craft, still growing up in front of expectant fans and the pressure of a whole nation, so his comment was very unfair.  They have already made regional sporting history and deserve to be the pride of all of Vietnam rising to the top against teams that a lot of players have never even met before. It’s a glorious achievement so far.

And no matter what the final score will be in the game – they return home as heroes – to inspire even more young people to take up the sport for fun, health and competition.  And maybe that’s the best part; somewhere another young boy will look up at the night sky and set in his heart the determination to be a star, a hero, an idol and the pride of his country.

My money (half a million dong) is on the Vietnamese team to win against Uzbekistan – 5 goals to 0.

And when they win…Vietnam will go crazy and party like it’s 1999.

Viva Vietnam! Viva the U23’s!



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