VIETNAM’S performance in the AFC 2022 World Cup qualifiers is nothing short of impressive.

Add to this its recent string of successes, Vietnam’s advance to the third round is also revealing of how the football hierarchy in Southeast Asia has shifted.

Advancing as runners up in Group G behind the United Arab Emirates with 18 points, Vietnam (17 points) is the sole survivor among Southeast Asian teams in the World Cup qualifiers.

Incidentally, the three other teams in Group G are neighboring countries Malaysia (12 points), Thailand (nine points) and Indonesia (one point), ranked in that order.

Meanwhile, the Philippines’ World Cup campaign has come to an end as the Azkals (11 points) only managed third place in Group A behind Syria (21 points) and China (19 points), both of which advanced to the third round.

The rest of the teams from Southeast Asia fared even worse in round two of the qualifiers: Myanmar and Cambodia, like Indonesia, placed bottom in their respective groups.

So as the sole Southeast Asian team to advance to the next round, Vietnam deserves our congratulatory praise.

And yet sadly, Vietnam’s rise still reminds us of how far Southeast Asian football still has to go, as none of the teams from this side of the world can still be considered as among the elite of world football.

How to barge into this elite circle remains an enigma for Southeast Asian nations.

One measure of elite status is qualifying for the World Cup, which, on the other hand, is dominated by a few national teams, the best of the best of global football.

That said an Asian team is still decades away from actually winning the World Cup.

Japan, for instance, keeps its goals realistic: Though a consistent World Cup qualifier, the Blue Samurai sees itself lifting the Jules Rimet Trophy in the 2050s yet.

That speaks a lot about how extremely competitive the main tournament is. For now, the likes of Vietnam will need to work doubly hard just to fulfill its World Cup qualification dreams.

It is unlikely that Vietnam will achieve this milestone at this stage of its football development, but such a goal is closer than one might think. Perhaps in the 2026 World Cup?

In the meantime, the Philippines, alongside its neighbors, might want to take a closer look at Vietnam’s no-nonsense football programs and figure out why it works.