Vietnam are among the ‘dark horses’ at the ongoing 2020 AFC U23 Championship in Thailand, despite their second-place finish in the previous edition, according to world football governing body FIFA.
“While teams like Japan, Korea Republic, Australia and IR Iran are used to qualifying for major international tournaments from the region, don't sleep on the likes of dark horses Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Qatar, for example,” FIFA said in an article published its website on Tuesday.
“The former two played in the AFC U-23 final, where Uzbekistan won dramatically 2-1 thanks to a winning goal in the last minute of extra time.”
FIFA was referring to the blizzard-like showdown at the AFC U23 Championship in China in 2018, where Vietnam were considered the underdogs before they beat Australia, Iraq, and Qatar to set up the Uzbekistan game.
Following the runners-up prize, Vietnam went on to score more impressive results with this youth squad forming the backbone under the helm of South Korean head coach Park Hang Seo over the past two years, including a fourth place at the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia, the second Southeast Asian trophy in 2018, a berth in the quarterfinals of the 2019 Asian Cup in the UAE, and most recently the gold medal at the 30th Southeast Asian Games in the Philippines in December.
The 2020 U23 tournament doubles as the qualifying round for men’s football at the Olympic Games in Tokyo later this year.
The top three teams will book a ticket to Tokyo 2020. If Japan rank in the top three, the four-placed team will advance together with the other two.
Vietnam have never qualified for men’s football at an Olympics edition.
The Golden Dragons place in Group D alongside Jordan, the UAE, and North Korea.
They will take on the UAE on January 10, Jordan on January 13, and North Korea on January 16.
All three games are scheduled to be broadcast live on national TV channel VTV6.
In Group A, hosts Thailand crushed Bahrain 5-0 in their opener on Wednesday while Iraq and Australia drew 1-1 the same day.
This year’s tourney takes place at four venues in Thailand between January 8 and 26, featuring 16 teams from across Asia.
Group B includes Qatar, favorites Japan, Saudi Arabia, and Syria.
Group C consists of defending champions Uzbekistan, heavyweights South Korea, China, and Iran.