History-making Vietnam World Cup team proof of a region on the rise
The sleepy city of Cheonan in the west of South Korea has the feeling that much of it was placed there overnight, with vast swathes of untouched land abruptly interrupted by a collection of high-rise buildings that for the most part seem empty of life or industry.
It’s also, uneasily, home to the nation’s only prison reserved exclusively for foreign inmates, but earlier this year it was quite literally overrun by a football team from Southeast Asia and its huge band of supporters.
Outside of matches involving the host nation at this year's U-20 World Cup, which was held over May and June, the majority of the other fixtures in Korea were dotted with a couple of dozen supporters from each of the nations involved and a few hundred curious neutrals.
He said the players must “never bow down to anyone”, they must stand tall and compete on a level footing with any nation in the world
But at each of Vietnam’s matches the fans came in their thousands – all decked in red and ready to sing, chant and squeal for the full 90 minutes.
Seven thousand in Cheonan for the opening 0-0 draw with New Zealand, another five against France in the same venue days later and more than 10,000 in rural Jeonju for the final group game against Honduras.
If there was an award for best support at the tournament, Vietnam would win it hands-down, but it’s not just in the stands but also on the pitch where the nation impressed.
At the end of their first-ever match at an outdoor FIFA tournament, having picked up a point in the scoreless draw with New Zealand – in a clash they’d dominated – several of the players slumped to the pitch in a mixture of exhaustion and disappointment.
It was then that their highly regarded coach, Hoang Anh Tuan, raced over and gestured wildly for them to get up.
Speaking afterwards he said that the players must “never bow down to anyone”, they must stand tall and compete on a level footing with any nation or player in the world.
The main target was to make an image of Vietnam to the world through football – and I think we did that
Despite the results, including a 4-0 defeat at the hands of tournament favourites France, they did just that.
This young team has been a project of the VFF for more than two years.
With the support of their domestic clubs, the coach and players held numerous camps, played a series of key warm-up matches and all the while developed and honed a brand of upbeat, pass-and-move, attacking football that the coach says is in their DNA.
Speaking exclusively with FourFourTwo after the team’s final match against Honduras, where once again they dominated large spells of the match only to lose 2-0, Hoang Anh Tuan said his team had “met their aims” and that the future looks bright for Vietnamese football.
“The two things that were our targets before we came to the World Cup were very clear because we knew who we are – that along with Vanuatu we knew we were the weakest team in the tournament,” he explained.
“We needed that experience, but the main target was to make an image of Vietnam to the world through football – and I think we did that.
“Everybody, including FIFA, were very surprised about our spectators and even after losing we has many big lessons, especially the experience and the confidence that comes with that to take with us for the future.”