'We can win': Coach of Vietnam's football team ahead of AFC U23 semis

By Staff reporters   January 22, 2018 | 06:03 am PT
'We can win': Coach of Vietnam's football team ahead of AFC U23 semis
Park Hang-seo, head coach of Vietnam's national U23 football team, hugs Xuan Truong, the team's captain after Vietnam beats Iraq to go into the semifinal of the AFC U23 Championship 2018. Photo by VnExpress/Anh Khoa
'Qatar is a strong competitor but we have great belief that we can win,' said the Korean coach.

During the final minutes of Vietnam's last two matches at the AFC U23 Championship, head coach Park Hang-seo was virtually invisible.

The nerves and tension surrounding the games had become too much for the South Korean coach to take.

Images of Park burying his face behind the technical area are not easy to forget, especially after the Vietnamese team made history, not once, but twice.

On January 17, Vietnam’s U23 national team thrilled football fans across the country by reaching the quarterfinals of the AFC U23 for the first time ever, thanks to a goalless draw against Syria. Vietnam and Malaysia are the first Southeast Asian teams to achieve the feat.

Coach Park Hang-seo hide his eyes from the game during the last minutes of the match between Vietnam and Syria on January 17. Photo by VnExpress/Anh Khoa

Coach Park Hang-seo can't look in the final minutes of the match between Vietnam and Syria on January 17. Photo by VnExpress/Anh Khoa

Three days later, Vietnamese fans erupted when their team kept the dream alive by reaching the semifinals thanks to a dramatic victory over Iraq.

Vietnam went into the game as the underdog against the former champion, but took the lead with an early goal. Iraq equalized with a successful penalty later in the first half, and a goalless second half brought the two teams to extra time, which saw each team score twice.

Vietnam finally emerged victorious in the resulting penalty shootout after successfully converting all five  spot kicks.

As the final penalty was being taken, coach Park had to turn away again.

Talking to his team after the win against Iraq, Park said: “You deserve this. There is no luck that can make a miracle. Miracles come from blood and sweat.”

“It’s been quite a long time since I last saw Vietnam’s national team play at the same level as the leading teams in Asia. Part of this was because of Park Hang-seo as he has been very flexible and smart with his tactics on the field. He has actually transformed the Vietnamese national team into something,” Nguyen Thanh Vinh, a local coach, told VnExpress.

While cheering the team's success, many people have been quick to thank the coach for turning a new page in Vietnamese football's history.

It looks like Park has fulfilled the promise he made three months ago when he took on the job as head coach of Vietnam’s national U23 football team: making it a leading team in Southeast Asia and competitive in Asia.

Park has gone against conventional techniques and methods by repositioning his players to get the best out of them.

But Park will not let the team rest on their laurels. They have to be ready for semifinal against Qatar on Tuesday.

“There is something you all should not forget, we are a team and we have to be united. Vietnam still have to fight and should not be satisfied with what we have achieved,” he told his team.

“I can't think of my family now, all my heart and soul is now for the Vietnamese football team. We have to put every effort into this game.”

“Though we are aware that it’s going to be a hard game, we still have a great belief that we can win. Belief is what has brought us here,” said the coach.

Qatar has scored seven goals in four games, and conceded just three, while Vietnam has an even goal difference in games played within 90 minutes.

Qatari players are optimistic about their chances against Vietnam, Qatar’s English daily newspaper Gulf Times said in a Sunday report, in which it called Vietnamese players “giant-killers.”

Rising Qatari star Ahmed Moein was quoted in the report as saying that "Vietnam has showed their class by beating Australia and Iraq, and therefore should not be taken lightly."

“Vietnam played very well against teams such as Iraq, Australia and Syria, and they will be a challenge for us,” he said.

For many Vietnamese fans who for years have watched their team perform in the Southeast Asian playground only, coach Park Hang-seo and his players are already heroes, no matter whether they make it through to the final or not.

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