Vietnam football star rocks after a rocky journey

By Nguyen My   April 2, 2019 | 03:54 am PT
Vietnam football star rocks after a rocky journey
Nguyen Hoang Duc reacts after scoring the second goal for Vietnam at the AFC U23 qualifier against Thailand on March 26, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Xuan Binh
Nguyen Hoang Duc’s stellar performance in the AFC U-23 Championship qualifier has thrilled fans, but his journey to the top has had a few bumps.

On March 26, Vietnam U23 stunned Thailand with a historic 4-0 win in the final group K match of the qualifier tournament.

For Nguyen Hoang Duc, scorer of the second, most spectacular goal of the match, it was more than just a victory. He took his chance to clear doubts and make a strong statement.

Unlike teammates Nguyen Quang Hai, Doan Van Hau or Tranh Dinh Trong, Duc’s international career has taken a much rockier path. When Vietnam U20 qualified for the FIFA U20 World Cup for the very first time in 2017, Duc got the honor to be a part of the historic journey when he was named in the 23-man squad.

He almost became history himself when Vietnam U20 played New Zealand in the group stage.

In the 86th minute of the match, Vietnam latched on to a loose ball and counter attacked. The ball found Ha Duc Chinh, who dribbled and held off two defenders before clipping beautifully to Duc in the box.

Unfortunately, the striker missed a sitter from just seven meters out, kicking the ball over the crossbar, along with it the chance to become the first ever Vietnamese goal scorer and earn his country three historic points at the World Cup stage. The game ended in a goalless draw, and Vietnam U20 failed to make it to the knockout round.

After the tournament, Duc was the target of much media criticism. While there was no denying the talent of the northern Hai Duong Province native, the high-profile miss in South Korea made it a struggle for Duc to regain the trust of managers and fans alike.

When 2018 turned out to be a most brilliant and memorable year for Vietnamese football, with Park Hang-seo’s men making it to the final of the AFC U-23 Championship, the semifinal of men’s football at the ASIAD and lifting the trophy at My Dinh Stadium without losing a single game at the AFF Suzuki Cup, Duc was left out of the squad on all three occasions.

Duc was forgotten and unwanted, but he was no quitter. He set out to prove himself at his club Viettel and played a key role in the side’s promotion to Vietnamese top-flight V. League 1 this season. His progress caught Park Hang-seo’s attention, and the 1998-born striker was once again called up for national duty at the 2020 AFC U-23 Championship Qualifier.

Vietnam U-23 was in Group K alongside host Thailand, Indonesia and Brunei. Despite not scoring in matches against Brunei and Indonesia, Duc’s height and ability to attract defenders were a great help in securing two important wins. In the much-anticipated clash with familiar foe Thailand, Duc finally got his chance to get his name on the score sheet.

After a brilliant cross from captain Nguyen Quang Hai, Duc drilled the ball into the far corner with his magical left-foot and doubled the lead.

It was an unforgettable night for Vietnamese football supporters and for Duc in particular.

The 2020 AFC U23 Championship will take place from January 8 to January 26 next year, and Vietnamese supporters are very eager to see what the 21-year-old striker has to offer in the tournament where Vietnam finished runner-up last year, surprising everyone.

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