Sports - December 29, 2022 | 03:10 am PT

Four major events that defined Vietnamese sports in 2022

Victories in the Southeast Asian Games, and the Women’s World Cup qualification are among the important sport events that contributed to a highly successful sporting year for Vietnam in 2022.

Total domination at SEA Games 31

With 205 gold, 125 silver and 116 bronze medals, Vietnam finished Hanoi 2021 Southeast Asian Games, also known as SEA Games 31, in the top spot for the second time, following it’s first win in 2003. Both times Vietnam was the host of the games. In SEA Games 31, Vietnam broke the gold medal record of the event, bested Indonesia in 1997 with 194 gold. The gap of 113 gold medals between Vietnam and second-place Thailand is also the biggest since 2007.

Nguyen Thi Oanh celebrates after finishing first at the 3,000 m women's hurdles event on May 15, 2022, completing her triple gold medals for Vietnamese athletics at the 31st SEA Games. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Dong

Athletics brought Vietnam the most number of medals with 22 gold, 14 silver and eight bronze. This is the third consecutive time that Vietnam topped the running tracks at the SEA Games.

Vietnam also dominated in both men’s and women’s football. In the two finals, Vietnam had the same score (1-0) against the same opponent (Thailand). Captain Huynh Nhu bagged the decisive goal to help Vietnam win the women’s football final on May 21. A day later, young striker Nham Manh Dung with an impressive header brought the men’s football gold medal home.

Vietnamese fans also left a good impression for others in the region when they filled the stands in many competitive events such as basketball and football. Football coach Michael Weiss said Laos had never before been supported by neutral fans as much as when they played in the group stage of men's football at Thien Truong Stadium in Nam Dinh. Southeast Asian reporters were also impressed that this stadium was always full of local spectators for this match, even though Vietnam wasn’t playing that day.

The Vietnam U23 team celebrates the men's football gold medal in the 31st SEA Games on May 22, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Dong

However, the event was not complete because of doping problems. A few months later, Vietnam received the bad news that five athletes had tested positive twice for using banned substances, including four SEA Games champions. These athletes will have the right to defend themselves in a hearing of the Southeast Asian Sports Council regarding the reason that they tested positive for doping. However, the chance for them to reverse the situation is very slim. In case they fail to prove their innocence, they will not only be stripped of their medals, but they could also be banned from competing for a long period.

Before this incident, Vietnamese athletes had recorded 19 cases of doping since the 2003 SEA Games, the highest since that year. Furthermore, before the event, the Vietnam Bodybuilding & Weightlifting Federation also detected and banned six athletes who tested positive for banned substances from participating in SEA Games 31.

Historic Southeast Asia feat in World Cup qualifiers

Although Vietnam couldn’t avoid finishing at the bottom of group B in the third round of the 2022 World Cup Asian qualifiers, the Golden Dragons can be proud of their win against China and a draw with Japan. With four points, Vietnam became the Southeast Asian team with the best results in the third and final round of World Cup qualifiers.

On the first day of the Lunar New Year 2022 at My Dinh National Stadium, Vietnam defeated China 3-1, becoming the first Southeast Asian team to win a match in the third round of World Cup qualifiers. Ho Tan Tai, Nguyen Tien Linh and Phan Van Duc scored for the hosts, respectively, while the visitors only got one goal back in the last minute.

Wing-back Ho Tan Tai (number 13) celebrates after opening the scoring for Vietnam with a header in the World Cup qualifiers against China on February 1, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Lam Thoa

Nearly two months later, Vietnam ended their journey in the third qualifying round with a 1-1 draw with Japan at Saitama Stadium. Defender Nguyen Thanh Binh opened the scoring in the first half, before captain Maya Yoshida brought home a point.

At the end of the qualifiers, Saudi Arabia and Japan went straight to the 2022 World Cup after topping group B, while Australia played two playoffs to go to Qatar. Japan and Australia made it past the group stage and were stopped in the round of 16, while Saudi Arabia left the tournament early but shocked everyone with a victory over Argentina, who later became world champions.

Quang Hai, Huynh Nhu and overseas impressions

Nguyen Quang Hai and Huynh Nhu created a historic milestone when they became the first Vietnamese male and female players to sign with a professional European club (not on loan).

Hai’s contract with Hanoi FC expired on April 12, when he officially joined Pau FC in the French second division Ligue 2 on June 29. He signed a two-year deal, with the option to extend for another year. Hai's presence helped the number of followers of Pau’s Facebook increase by 16 times in just 10 days.

Nguyen Quang Hai (L) officially joins Pau FC on June 29, 2022. Photo by Pau FC

The 25-year-old star midfielder scored in the first friendly match for Pau, but only started two matches in Ligue 2. Physical and strength barriers kept him on the bench most of the time, as he only took the field to play the final minutes. However, he is one of seven Pau players who have scored in the first leg of Ligue 2. Hai's only goal for the club so far was in the 2-2 draw against Rodez on October 8.

On August 25, women’s national team captain Huynh Nhu joined Lank Vilaverdense FC in the Portuguese women’s top division Campeonato Nacional Feminino, under a one-year contract with the option to extend for another 12 months.

Nhu quickly adapted to the new club, scoring twice and getting a goal assist in her first start for Lank in the league when playing Famalicao on November 5. Exactly two weeks later, the 31-year-old striker scored twice against AD Ovarense in a 5-0 win in the third round of the Portuguese Cup. Nhu became the first Vietnamese to receive a "best player" award at a European championship.

Huynh Nhu (L) jumps to celebrate her goal for Lank FC in a Liga BPI match against Famalicao on November 5, 2022. Photo by Lank FC

In addition to personal aspirations, Hai and Nhu’s decision to play football in Europe is a commitment that needs to be supported by Vietnamese football. Thailand is still confident that it is the number one team in Southeast Asia because of what their players have done in the J. League. Celebrating the development of Vietnamese football makes no sense if players just stay with their domestic clubs. Vietnam has had pioneers and although they failed, that doesn’t mean Vietnamese players are not qualified to play in Japan or Europe, according to football insiders.

First-ever Women’s World Cup qualification

Captain Huynh Nhu is also an inspiration to help Vietnam play in the Women’s World Cup for the first time in history. At the 2022 Women's Asian Cup, which is also the World Cup qualifier, she scored the decisive goal to help Vietnam draw 2-2 with Myanmar in the group stage, and to advance to the quarterfinals.

Despite losing to China in the quarterfinals, Vietnam still got the chance to compete for a spot at the World Cup with Chinese Taipei and Thailand in the playoffs. In the first match, Nhu opened the scoring to help Vietnam defeat Thailand 2-0.

The Vietnam national women's football team celebrate after gaining qualification for the 2023 Women's World Cup on February 6, 2022. Photo by Vietnam Football Federation

On February 6, at DY Patil Stadium, Navi Mumbai City, Vietnam women’s team made history in the match against Chinese Taipei. Defender Chuong Thi Kieu opened the scoring in the seventh minute, before the opponent equalized at the beginning of the second half. In a must-win situation, Vietnam got what it wanted with Nguyen Thi Bich Thuy's goal in the 56th minute. The team won 2-1 and a place in the 2023 Women's World Cup.

The 2023 Women's World Cup will take place in Australia and New Zealand from July 20 to August 20, with 32 teams divided into eight groups. Vietnam is in group E with the defending world champion United States, runner-up Dutch and a playoff winner, which most likely will be Portugal.

Staff reporters