Vietnam defeated Iraq on penalties in the quarterfinals of the 2018 AFC U23 Championship in China on Saturday, booking a historic place in the semifinals.
This is the first time the Vietnamese have made it to the last-four round at the continental tourney for under-23 players.
The young Golden Stars will challenge Qatar in the semis on January 23.
While a quarterfinal spot was already a fairy tale for Vietnam U23s, they are now only one match away from the final, after taking fans through a roller coaster of emotions in their victory over former champions Iraq.
|Vietnamese and Iraqi players fight for the ball during their quarterfinal game at the 2018 AFC U23 Championship in China on January 20, 2018. Photo: Tuoi Tre|
Vietnam took the lead for two times before drawing 3-3 against Iraq after 120 minutes in the sensational game at Changshu Stadium in Changshu.
They continued to beat the Iraqis 5-3 in a tense penalty shootout although they had been considered the underdogs.
Star striker Cong Phuong scored the opener past goalie Ahmed Basil from inside the box just 12 minutes on the clock, forcing the Iraqis to push forward.
Iraq’s efforts paid off in the 29th minute when the referee pointed to the spot after Aymen Hussein was fouled in the penalty area.
Hussein stepped forward to level the score.
Hussein helped the former champions take a 2-1 lead just four minutes into the first half of extra time, but the brave Vietnamese managed to level again in the 108th minute following a precious goal by Phan Van Duc.
|Vietnamese players celebrate their win over Iraq in the quarterfinals of the 2018 AFC U23 Championship in China on January 20, 2018. Photo: Tuoi Tre|
The thrilling showdown continued with Ha Duc Chinh heading home to put Vietnam 3-2 ahead, but Alaa Mhawi sent the game into a shootout with a 116th minute goal.
Iraq wasted their chance in the first round, while all five Vietnamese penalty takers held their nerve and eventually claimed the historic victory.
Iraq clinched the championship in 2013, when the event was held for under-22 players in Oman.
In the other quarterfinal game on Saturday, South Korea struggled to beat underdogs Malaysia 2-1 to advance.
On Friday, Uzbekistan routed Japan 4-0, while Qatar beat Palestine 3-2 to secure their semifinal berths. All of the three games were settled in 90 minutes.
Vietnam started their journey in China with a 1-2 loss after taking the lead to South Korea before stunning Australia 1-0 and drawing 0-0 with Syria, advancing to the knockout stage as the Group D runners-up, second to the Koreans.
|A Vietnamese player (in red) struggles to handle the ball beside an Iraqi player in their quarterfinal game at the 2018 AFC U23 Championship in China on January 20, 2018. Photo: Tuoi Tre|
The young players went down to history as the first-ever Vietnamese team to qualify for a quarterfinal spot at the Asian U-23 championship.
Shortly after Saturday’s breathtaking victory of the U-23 team, Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc extended his congratulations and praise to them in a congratulatory letter.
“On behalf of the government, I congratulate and commend the U-23 team, particularly coach Park Hang-seo,” the premier said, hailing the whole team for their meaningful victory that brought pride to the country.
|Fans take to the streets in Hanoi to celebrate Vietnam's historic spot in the semis of the 2018 AFC U23 Championship. Photo: Tuoi Tre|
The Vietnamese head of government sent a similar letter to Vietnam U23s after the team secured their historic quarterfinal spot earlier this week.
In the meantime, streets across Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and localities countrywide were flooded with a 'red sea' of supporters who celebrated the historic win of the team.
Huge numbers of revelers sporting red T-shirts, the color of Vietnam's national flag, basked in their team’s victory on motorbikes.