Vietnamese football lovers have more reasons than just the second-place at the 2018 AFC U23 Championship to believe in young players, as many of the next-generation footballers are ready for their chance to shine.
Vietnam lost 2-1 to Uzbekistan in extra time during the snowy final to finish second at the U23 championship in China on Saturday, but it was more than enough to bring the whole nation pride as the young players elevated the country’s position in the continental arena.
The Golden Stars beat giants including Australia, Iraq and Qatar on their path to the finale, going down to history as the first Southeast Asian nation to make it to the final game of the tournament.
Football academies reap sweet fruits
Many players of the outstanding U23 team, such as star striker Cong Phuong and Captain Xuan Truong, are graduates of the Hoang Anh Gia Lai Academy, which began recruiting young football talents for its training program backed by English Premiership League side Arsenal in 2007.
Hoang Anh Gia Lai Academy is the feed club for its namesake professional football squad now competing in V-League 1, the country’s top-level football competition.
The academy is currently ‘incubating’ nearly 100 young football talents aged 14, 16 and 18, all recruited in three different sessions.
This academy is not the only of its kind within Vietnam.
|File photo of now U23 player Bui Tien Dung when he was a trainee at PVF in 2015. Photo: Tuoi Tre|
The football training center of military-run telecom giant Viettel has 125 trainees aged from 13 to 21. Viettel U21s compete in the second-tier V-League 2.
An academy run by V-League 1 side Becamex Binh Duong is training 70 players between 12 and 17 years old, and that of Hanoi FC has 120 trainees aged from 11 to 19.
Another center, Promotion Fund of Vietnamese Football Talents (PVF), owned by Vietnamese conglomerate Vingroup, has recruited 160 young footballers for seven age groups and will see its first batch of 2000-born players ‘graduate’ this May.
Nine out of 14 such 18-year-old players will qualify to play in the V-League 1, according to PVF.
|Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam (L) welcomes Vietnamese U23 players at Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi on January 28, 2018. Photo: Tuoi Tre|
Young does not necessarily mean inexperienced
Le Hoai Anh, general secretary of the Vietnam Football Federation, said the success the U23 team gained in China is not a result of luck, but rather that of a decade-long development plan.
“The current U23 team have played at the Asian level since the qualification round for the AFC U19 Championship,” Anh said.
“Many players of this squad also attended the 2016 AFC U23 Championship in Qatar so they are experienced in playing international games.”
The VFF general secretary added that the players have already had chances to play friendly games in South Korea, Japan and Malaysia, which helps build up both their skill and experience.
“The players also learned a lot from their failure [of being eliminated from the group stage] in the 2017 Southeast Asian Games,” he added.
|Vietnam U19s, all trained by the Hoang Anh Gia Lai Academy, pose for a group photo in 2013. Photo: Tuoi Tre|
Nguyen Tuan Anh, head of the Hoang Anh Gia Lai FC, also said their football academy allows young players to partake in a number of international friendly games with England, France and Belgium during their three-month training campaign in Europe as part of the center’s curriculum.
“They have grown up day by day before achieving their official positions in the U22, U23 and national squads” he said.
In the last two years, many players of the current U23 team have been able to play at the AFC U19 Championship and the FIFA U20 World Cup.
“These are all valuable tests that help players, stemming not only from Hoang Anh Gia Lai Academy but also other training centers countrywide, to strengthen and create the miracle in the 2018 AFC U23 Championship,” he underlined.
|Vietnamese players cheer after an equalizer in the finale with Uzbekistan during the 2018 AFC U23 Championship in China on January 27, 2018. Photo: Tuoi Tre|
Anh of Hoang Anh Gia Lai added that Vietnam is on the right track when it comes to young football training, which ‘feeds’ real quality and skillful players to the national squads.
“I think in the next few years when Cong Phuong, Xuan Truong and [other ace U23 players] are still on the top of their career, players of the next generations will already be ready to succeed them,” he said.
“The race to be recruited to the national teams will be much tougher but coaches will be the happiest as they have a number of good talents to choose from.”
And the success of the U23 players will not only motivate more children to pursue their football dream, but also reduce concern and worry of parents whose children want to be professional footballers.
Children have to leave their family at very young ages to attend football academies, and persuading parents to let the kids go has proven to be a tough task for training center recruiters.
“It is now much easier for recruiters to access both the children and their family, and football academies will be able to find more talents,” local coach Nguyen Huu Thang said.
|Students are seen at the Viettel football academy in Hanoi. Photo: Tuoi Tre|
Vietnam cannot stop placing more effort in young talent training just because they are now technically the ‘second strongest underage team of Asia.’
Following their fairytale run in China, the same Vietnamese U23 team will continue to compete at the 2018 Asian Games (Asiad) in Indonesia this August.
More effort is still needed for the team to continue exhibiting their form at the Indonesia competition.
However, Vietnamese players can rest assure that they now have the support from the entire nation.