Vietnamese PM waits 5 hours to greet returning U23 football ‘warriors’

By Vi Vu   January 29, 2018 | 10:57 am GMT+7
Vietnamese PM waits 5 hours to greet returning U23 football ‘warriors’
Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc (front-L) greets coach Park Hang-seo at the government palace in Hanoi on Sunday. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy

‘I don't think a prime minister has ever waited this long, but I don't think there has ever been so much joy either.’

Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc waited for hours to welcome the Vietnamese players back from the Asian U23 Championship in China on Sunday, saying it was well worth the long wait.

The PM hosted the team at the government palace in Hanoi on Sunday evening, after the players had been on a massive parade over 30 kilometers (19 miles) from Noi Bai Airport.

“I’ve waited here for more than five hours. I don't think a prime minister has ever waited this long, but I don't think there has ever been so much joy either,” Phuc said as he received the team.

The Vietnamese team finished runner-up at the Asian Football Confederation (U23) Championship in Changzhou after losing 1-2 to Uzbekistan in the final on Saturday, marking the first time a team from Southeast Asia had gone that far and drawing congratulations from around the world.

Phuc awarded the team the first class Labor Order, an honor the Vietnamese government only grants to people and groups who have made outstanding achievements for the country. Coach Park Hang-seo, goalkeeper Bui Tien Dung and midfielder Nguyen Quang Hai, who all starred during the tournament, received third class Labor Orders.

“People from across the entire country have joined together today to cheer on their warriors. The team has fought fiercely to ignite Vietnamese pride,” he said, as cited by a report on the government news website.

The Vietnamese leader personally thanked the South Korean coach.

“Mr Park has led U23 Vietnam with excellence and a touch of magic,” Phuc said at the meeting, which wrapped up in around an hour.

He also said that he hoped that Vietnamese football can build on this regional success to reach the World Cup one day.

Vietnam, considered the underdog at the start of the AFC Cup, won numerous plaudits by beating top competitors to earn a place in the final. The team defeated Australia 1-0 in the group stage. The players also beat Iraq in the quarterfinals and Qatar in the semifinals, both on penalties.

In the final, the team came from a goal down thanks to a free kick by the now famous midfielder Nguyen Quang Hai, but missed out on the title after Uzbekistan scored the winner in the last minute of extra time.

Although he did not hide his disappointment, Park said his players had performed well during the match, which was played in a freezing blizzard.

“We don’t have to keep our heads down because we’ve tried our best,” he told at his team after the match, as some players struggled to hold back their tears.

Besides silver medals, the team also won the Fair Play Award at the championship.

Take a look at the team's amazing run here:

[Video by Nhung Nguyen]
 
 
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