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Young midfielder plays his way to stardom

By Xuan Binh   February 22, 2022 | 02:00 am PT
Vietnam Golden Ball recipient Nguyen Hoang Duc has overcome repeated failure to become a mainstay of the national team.

One of the first impressions Duc made in his career was a freekick that opened the score to help Viettel FC beat Song Lam Nghe An 3-0 in the semifinals of the 2015 national U17 championship. But in the final, he and another teammate failed the penalty shootout, costing Viettel the title.

Duc's career had so many ups and downs. But through each failure, he made great progress. Only one year after the U17 tournament, he helped Viettel reach the final of the U19 national championship, before losing to Hanoi FC, also in the penalty shootout. He was chosen as the player of the tournament.

His performance in the U19 national championship earned him a spot in the U19 Vietnam squad. However, after an exhibition tournament in Malaysia, Duc was removed from the squad for 2016 AFC U19 Championship in Bahrain. He could not compete with other central midfielders like Bui Tien Dung, Phan Thanh Hau, Truong Van Thai Quy and Trieu Viet Hung, However, all these players so far haven't played for the national team, while Duc is now a key midfielder.

At 2016 AFC U19 Championship, Vietnam defeated host Bahrain in the quarterfinals to qualify for 2017 U20 World Cup in South Korea. And Duc's efforts during the preparation for the tournament, helped him get his name on the World Cup list. In the opening match against New Zealand, Duc came on as a substitute and missed a sitter in front of the empty goal with only four minutes left and the score 0-0. This was the best chance for Vietnam to score a goal at the tournament, but Duc shot it over the bar. He screamed and lay on the ground in regret.

Nguyen Hoang Duc after missing a sitter in the U20 World Cup game with New Zealand in 2017. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Dong

Nguyen Hoang Duc after missing a sitter in the U20 World Cup game with New Zealand in 2017. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Dong

A few years later, many people still talked about the miss, with Duc playing professionally for Viettel in V. League 2. He was one of the key players that played a big part in Viettel’s promotion to V. League 1 in 2019. When the club won the national championship in 2020, Duc only scored twice in 17 matches. However, his contribution was not limited to the number of goals.

With a height of 1.83 meters and a flexible left foot, Duc is comfortable and confident to control and carry the ball upward. He also doesn't hesitate to dribble past the opponent to start attacks from the midfield. Duc's defensive ability has also gradually improved through the years, from interception to physical duels.

The more Duc progressed, the fewer people talked about his miss in 2017. However, he was not included in the squad for the 2018 AFC U23 Championship in China and Asian Games in Indonesia. A hopeful Duc kept working hard and put on an impressive display for Viettel. That finally got him a call-up to the U23 team a year later. 2019 was a turning point for Hoang Duc. He played brilliantly in Vietnam’s journey to win the SEA Games football gold medal for the first time ever. He topped the team in statistics with a 90 percent passing accuracy and 21 successful dribbles.

Experts predicted that one day, Duc would become a mainstay of the national team. But very few expected it to come so soon. Midfielder Do Hung Dung's serious injury in March 2021 opened up a chance for Duc. He played in the three final matches of the second round of World Cup qualifiers, even though he had only played nine minutes for the national team before. Immediately, Duc became a regular starter and gradually found a solid spot in Park Hang-seo’s tactics.

Hoang Duc dribbles past Chanathip Songkrasin in the AFF Cup semifinals between Thailand and Vietnam in 2021. Photo by Leo Shengwei

Hoang Duc dribbles past Chanathip Songkrasin in the AFF Cup semifinals between Thailand and Vietnam in 2021. Photo by Leo Shengwei

In 2021, Hoang Duc played 17 matches for the national team, including six in AFF Cup and 11 in World Cup qualifiers. He started in 15 matches, scored one and assisted in three goals. With one impressive performance after another, it’s no surprise he got the highest vote at Vietnam Golden Ball 2021 with 466 points and won the award in his very first nomination, surpassing Nguyen Quang Hai, who won the honor in 2018.

At the age of 24, Duc still has many things to improve, especially his heading. The midfielder can also improve his ability as a ball distributor or hole player (a player who penetrates the box often and contributes directly to goals) like Vietnam captain Hung Dung.

The 3-1 victory over China on Feb. 1 was the first time the midfielder trio of Hoang Duc, Quang Hai and Hung Dung played together for the national team. They are the best midfielders in Vietnam at the moment and are expected to provide more dynamic performances in upcoming matches.

 
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