Vietnam’s rising star: Incheon United’s Xuan Truong
One area where Southeast Asia is blessed is midfield. There is Safiq Rahim in Malaysia, Singapore's Hariss Harun, Chanathip Songkrasin in Thailand, Stephan Schrock in the Philippines to name just a few.
There could soon be a new name to add to that mix: Luong Xuan Truong of Vietnam.
The 21 year-old was the man of the match in the impressive 5-2 win over North Korea earlier this month, scoring a goal that would have made headlines around the world had it hit the back of a European net.
The North Korea coach was also very complimentary about this silky star with passing and technical abilities that match his vision. A beautiful curled shot into the top corner from outside the area was the lime placed on top of this delicious pho served up for home fans.
If the youngster made headlines in Pyongyang, he made almost as many on the other side of the 38th Parallel.
Xuan Truong signed for South Korean club Incheon United at the start of 2016. The problem is that he has played just the one game for a club that has been in the relegation zone for all season long.
Almost as cold as the freezing winters that sweep into Seoul's port city, has been the reaction of some in the country's football fraternity. Kim Do-hoon (coach at the time of the player's arrival) did not seem taken with his new Vietnamese starlet.
“There are so many prejudices Korean football when it comes to South-east Asian football,” Xuan Truong told FourFourTwo. “After Piyapong there have been no more—in 30 years and this is because of a stereotype.”
Piyapong Pue-on has been the exception that proves the rule. The Thai striker was much celebrated and feared in the league's mid-eighties early days, scoring goals for Lucky Goldstar to help the club to the 1985 title.
The legend, who told this writer that he turned down big English clubs to return to Southeast Asia after Korea, is still feted in Seoul.
Xuan Truong's opinion is not an excuse for failure to take the pitch. Talk to older Korean coaches, and they often express doubts over whether ASEAN football players have what it takes to play in the physical K-League. It has spurred the player on.
“So I need to fight not only on the field but in all aspects off it too to prove people wrong. I am trying my best everyday and I have been fighting to overcome this stereotype.”
Xuan Truong is unwilling to talk about coach Kim Do-hoon but the tactician left the club in the summer to be replaced by his assistant Lee Ki-hyung.
“The new coach can speak English as he played in New Zealand and he is fair in his thinking and tried to give me many opportunities. Now the situation is different.”
The move had come as a surprise for a player on the books of leading Vietnamese club HAGL FC.
But when an offer came, Xuan Truong knew it was destiny calling him to fulfil his dream of playing in the top leagues in Asia.
Despite a lack of opportunities to prove his worth since, and regardless as to whether he stays in Incheon, the former HAGL man has learnt from his experience.
“I have improved mentally in Korea. Korean players are diligent in the field and have a lot of fighting spirit and take care of themselves away from the pitch,” he said.
The K-League is a high standard compared to others I have experienced, the training is tougher than with the Vietnamese national team
“They don't drink much and prepare everything for the game. They are tall and strong physically compared with SE Asian players.
“The K-League is a high standard compared to others I have experienced, the training is tougher than with the Vietnamese national team.”
Talk of the national team leads inevitably to the AFF Suzuki Cup and hopes of November were heightened by October's 5-2 win over North Korea.
It was not remarkable only in terms of the scoreline but of the fluid football played by the hosts.
“I was very happy with my contribution,” said Xuan Truong. “I was man of the match. I was lucky but the happiest thing is that the Vietnamese national team is getting better all the time. We are preparing for the AFF Suzuki Cup with confidence.”
Vietnam have been drawn in Group B with Malaysia, a qualifier and co-hosts Myanmar.
It is considered as the easier of the two groups and hopes are high among fans of the Golden Star of progression to the last four and a possible repeat of the 2008 success.
Xuan Truong too shared similar sentiments and he added: “Hopefully, we will have a good tournament. We have the legendary older players like Le Cong Vinh and there are young players Cong Phong, Nguyen Van Toan , myself and others.
“We play well together and have a good understanding and we also have a great team spirit and we are getting better all the time.
"We are looking forward to playing Malaysia and we can beat them. We also want to beat Thailand. Our target is to win the trophy.”