Vietnam U23 hero turns out-of-favor keeper after years of poor form

By Minh Khang   March 5, 2024 | 07:29 pm PT
Goalkeeper Bui Tien Dung, once thought to have the world in his hands after his rousing success at the 2018 AFC U23 Championship, faces a future full of uncertainties after a lengthy decline in form.

Dung's career was defined by his heroic performance at the 2018 AFC U23 Championship in Changzhou, China. The 1997-born goalkeeper from Thanh Hoa was a huge presence in front of goal and made many spectacular saves, denying two penalties in the shootout against Qatar in the semifinal that helped secure Vietnam U23 a spot in the final against Uzbekistan.

Bùi Tiến Dũng diễu hành trên xe bus mui trần khi U23 Việt Nam trở về sau vòng chung kết U23 châu Á 2018. Ảnh: Đương Phạm

Goalkeeper Bui Tien Dung stands in a double-decker bus that parades the Vietnam's U23 team upon their return to Hanoi after a successful run at the AFC U23 Championship in China, January 2018. Photo by VnExpress/Duong Pham

Upon his return from Changzhou, Dung became an instant household name and the face of various brands. Nonetheless, this newfound fame off the pitch might have somewhat distracted the young star, as his performance on it began to suffer.

Dung was initially Thanh Hoa FC’s number one goalkeeper for the AFC Cup and V-League, but mistakes in goal led to him losing his position to senior keeper Thanh Thang. There were times when he was not even the club’s second choice, with tough competition from then reserve goalie Buu Ngoc.

In early 2019, Dung made a high-profile switch to reigning V-League champions Hanoi FC - a move that was expected to get his career back on track. However, things were by no means easy for Dung, as he could not compete for a starting spot ahead of the consistently reliable Nguyen Van Cong and, at times, young keeper Phi Minh Long.

Bùi Tiến Dũng (phải) tập luyện khi còn khoác áo CLB Hà Nội. Ảnh: Đương Phạm

Bui Tien Dung (R) trains with other goalkeepers at Hanoi FC. Photo by VnExpress/Duong Pham

In the rare occasions when he was given minutes, Dung did little to impress, conceding 9 goals in just three starting matches in the 2019 V-League. The final straw of his time at the club was the serious mistakes that he made in the first leg of the 2019 AFC Cup inter-zone play-off final, which eventually led to Hanoi FC being eliminated on away goals by North Korean club 4.25 SC. Dung parted ways with the capital city’s club after just one season, joining Ho Chi Minh City FC.

Unfortunately, a change in club was not accompanied by a change in form for Dung. He started a first few games for Ho Chi Minh City but could not rid himself of mistakes, leading to a humbling 2-5 defeat against Hoang Anh Gia Lai in matchweek 13 of the 2020 V-League. The keeper once again found himself watching his teammates from the bench.

It was not until matchweek 11 of the 2021 V-League that Dung got another opportunity in goal due to Thanh Thang’s injuries and Van Cuong's poor form. However, he was relegated to the bench as soon as Thanh Thang recovered.

Bùi Tiến Dũng trong màu áo CLB TP HCM. Ảnh: HCM City FC

Bui Tien Dung during his time with HCMC FC. Photo by HCMC FC

His lack of playing time at the club level meant Dung gradually lost his place in the Vietnam U23 and the national team. After the 2019 SEA Games, he was no longer called up to the national team under coaches Park Hang-seo and Philippe Troussier.

At the end of 2022, Dung left Ho Chi Minh City FC and joined Cong An Ha Noi. The first three matches in which he featured for Cong An Ha Noi also turned out to be the last, as the disappointment continued. He was later replaced by Patrik Le Giang and often left out of the matchday squad. After Cong An Ha Noi signed Filip Nguyen in June 2023, Dung’s future became increasingly uncertain.

Bùi Tiến Dũng trong màu áo CAHN. Ảnh: Đương Phạm

Bui Tien Dung in Cong An Hanoi jersey. Photo by VnExpress/Duong Pham

At the end of the first leg of the 2023-2024 V-League season, Dung joined the struggling Hoang Anh Gia Lai from Cong An Ha Noi on loan. The goalkeeper made his debut for the club in the away match against Khanh Hoa on Tuesday last week and managed to keep a clean sheet in the 0-0 draw.

It is hoped that such a favorable start can help boost his confidence, as he aims to regain his form and secure the number one spot at his new club.

Vietnam U23's successful run at the AFC U23 Championship in China, with great contributions from keeper Bui Tien Dung, January 2018. Video by VnExpress/Nhung Nguyen

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