Villaflor: Vietnam shakes up Asiad football

VIETNAM’S golden generation continues to astound in this football-mad region called Asia. And with its U23 team’s impressive run, this nation of 92 million people have become the de facto bearers of the Southeast Asian torch.

For decades, a recurring question has boggled pundits and fans alike: Will there ever be a powerhouse Southeast Asian team the likes of Japan, South Korea and Iran?

At the rate it’s going, Vietnamese football has what it takes to be that team, perhaps as early as the middle of the next decade. Members from the current U23 Vietnam team will soon form the core of the senior team that seeks to stand alongside giants.

How good are they? Some observers say that in terms of technique, this generation of Vietnamese footballers are not just the best in Southeast Asia but are “right up there” among Asia’s finest. Of course, how the Vietnam Football Federation will shape this team into an elite force is one thing, but as far as results go, Vietnamese football is on the right track.

The continent first took notice of Vietnam’s U23 earlier this year when it incredibly reached the final of the 2018 AFC U23 Championship. Fans across Vietnam stormed into the streets to celebrate this historic feat. (For context, the Philippines couldn’t even earn a point or score a goal during the qualification stages the year before, ending the tournament winless at the bottom of its group). Although Vietnam lost to Uzbekistan 1-2 after extra time in the final, there was little doubt that a new era of Vietnamese football had begun.

Proving that their AFC success was no fluke, Vietnam’s U23 side continues its succesful run in the ongoing Asian Games. While neighbors Malaysia and hosts Indonesia faltered in the first knockout round, Vietnam made it to the semifinals, after beating Bahrain in the Round of 16, and Syria in the quarterfinals in extra time, both with 1-0 margins.

Tomorrow, it faces nemesis South Korea, against whom it lost 1-2 in its two previous meetings. Incidentally, South Korea advanced to the semis by beating Uzbekistan, Vietnam’s AFC U23 Championship conqueror, 4-3.

But Vietnam appears to be the hungrier side in what could be an epic semifinal match tomorrow. Not only is it out for revenge against South Korea, Vietnam knows an entire region is throwing its support behind this overachieving Southeast Asian side.


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