It has been a great three weeks and it has really put South East Asia’s regional tournament on the map.
If anyone doubted the importance of the AFF Suzuki Cup
they should have been in Bangkok and especially Hanoi for the two legs of the
win over Thailand sent the nation wild with delight and it
ends what has been a very good year or so for football in Vietnam.
only did the team, as co-hosts, make the quarter-final of the 2007 Asian Cup
but a year later, the Under-22 team lifted the Merdeka Cup. With the SEA Games taking
place in Laos in 2009, hopes are high that the Golden Stars can build on
would begrudge that. Few are as passionate about the beautiful game as the
Vietnamese. In the past however, it has been more about Cristiano Ronaldo and
Steven Gerrard than Le Cong Vinh and Doung Hong Son but this triumph has made national
heroes of these local stars.
has been a long time coming. In 1998 Vietnam hosted the competition and were
favourites to win. They got to the final only to lose to Singapore. That was as
good as it got until this month.
group stage went to form. Thailand defeated Vietnam in Phuket and Henrique
Calisto’s men had to be content with second place and a semi-final with
defending champions Singapore.
The Reds flew at their visitors in Hanoi but
just couldn’t break the deadlock. Singapore were not only relieved with the
goalless draw, they thought it had all but cemented their passage to the final.
reckoned without Nguyen Quang Hai who scored the only goal of the two-legged
tie to silence the Kallang Roar at the Singapore National Stadium. They also
reckoned without the player of the tournament, goalkeeper Hong Son who stopped
everything that the Lions could throw at him.
was team spirit, hard work and organization that took Vietnam to the final and
like all teams that win tournaments; they came good at the right time and got
better as the competition progressed.
A 2-1 win in Bangkok in the first leg of
the final was a surprise for the hosts but Thailand were facing a different team
than the one they defeated in the group stage.
team have certainly grown where they now play under less pressure and are more
confident," said Calisto.
the entire nation celebrating after that Bangkok win, there was a danger that
the team and fans would see the final as over even before the start of the second
leg in Hanoi.
complacency was blown away midway through the first half as tournament top
scorer Teerasil Dangda headed Thailand into a first half lead.
With no away
goals, extra time was looming when Cong Vinh headed home a free-kick in the
93rd minute. It was a cruel end for Thailand who will complain about that free-kick but Vietnam are deserved winners.
is the first major prize that the nation has won. And, as of this morning,
Vietnam fans can say that the team has finally emerged as a player on the
It was done in style as Vietnam defeated the only two past winners of the trophy on their way to their triumph. The trick now though is to sustain this
way will be to keep the canny Calisto. The Portuguese tactician has transformed Vietnam,
always a hard-working and passionate team, into a well-organised and more
Hanoi has long been a tough place for other teams to
visit but now, Vietnam are capable of winning anywhere in South East Asia.
But that is only the first step.
comes qualification for the 2011 Asian Cup and a group that contains China,
Syria and Lebanon. It is a good opportunity to face three teams that will
provide tricky away trips without being continental powerhouses.
without saying that none of that trio will relish a trip to My Dinh Stadium but
the challenge is for Vietnam to pick up points overseas – traditionally not the
team’s strong point.
But that is in the future. For now, there is
a third name on the trophy. Vietnam have earned the right to celebrate and
enjoy their time in the spotlight.