When the final whistle blew at the My Dinh Stadium in Hanoi Saturday night, confirming Vietnam has the new AFF Suzuki Cup champions, all the Vietnamese players ran towards each other, sharing hugs and tears.
But goalkeeper Dang Van Lam spent that moment by himself: he walked back to the goal, hugged the goalpost, knelt down, prayed and cried.
Lam played a vital role throughout the tournament, ensuring no goal was scored against Vietnam till the team reached the semifinals
of the tournament, making great saves until it ended.
In the eight matches that Vietnam played, Lam kept the goal clean throughout the stage group. Opponents were able to find the back of Vietnam’s net just four times, once each during the first leg and second legs of the semifinals, and twice in the first leg of the final.
On social media, Lam has become a rising star, with many praising his skills and thanking him for Vietnam from many "dangerous" situations.
Writing for U.S.-based global sports website ESPN on November 3, football commentator John Duerden said he saw Dang Van Lam as the key player in the team, set to be the number one choice for the goalkeeper position for years.
To get where he is now, the 25-year-old goalkeeper has made quite a journey.
Lam was born to a Russian mother and Vietnamese father in Russia and grew up there. His mother is an actress and father is a ballet dancer, but Lam fell for football at a very young age.
Before he decided to pursue a career in Vietnam in 2010, Lam had learned to play football at two professional football clubs in Russia, Spartak Moscow and Dinamo Moscow.
In 2015, Lam caught netizens’ attention when he made it clear on Facebook that he wants to play for the Vietnamese men’s national
"My biggest wish now is to play for the Vietnam’s U23 national football team. This is the last year that I’m still young enough to be in the team for SEA Games [Southeast Asian Games]. If not now, when?"
He pleaded for help from other Facebook’s users, calling them to share the post, in which he wears a uniform with Vietnam’s national flag.
"Though I was born in Russia, my father and I are Vietnamese. I have a Vietnamese passport and I’m fluent in Vietnamese. And I’m qualified enough to be in the team because I have been trained at renowned clubs in Russia like Dinamo va Spartak Moscow," he wrote.
The post won the netizens over, but did not help Lam further towards his goal.
It was not until May 2016, when Lam was playing for the Hai Phong Club in northern Vietnam that he was noticed by the then coach of the Vietnamese national team, Huu Thang.
On June 13, 2017, Lam officially played as a member of the Vietnamese men’s national team for the first time. It was a game against Jordan for the qualifying round of the Asian Cup 2019.
The match ended with a 0-0 draw and Thang told the press back then: "Now you don’t need to question why I choose Lam in first place, we can see how good he is during the match."
However, at the Asiad, or Asian Games 2018 in August, coach Park Hang-seo kept Lam in reserve for the whole season. Lam had to wait for months for his turn to come.
The AFF Cup was his turn, and he made it count.
The tournament was the third time that Lam played as a main member of the Vietnamese team, and he did not disappoint his coach, teammates and supporters.
"For Vietnamese football lovers, this victory means a lot, because we have finally returned to lead regional football after a decade. All Vietnamese people have waited for this trophy and we’re all truly happy for making it. We’ve all tried our best to win," Lam told VnExpress after the match on Saturday night.
Today, Dang Van Lam can take a look at the post he wrote in 2015 smile proudly to himself.
After all those years, his dream has come true.
He has become an important part of Vietnam’s football history.
Video below shows an emotional Lam after the referee blew the final whistle Saturday night. Video by Van Duong