Sports - December 26, 2020 | 04:38 pm PT

The truncated year that was in Vietnamese sports

In the year of the great pandemic, the Vietnamese sports scene saw many ups and downs.

From frustrations and losses to pride and joy, here are top 10 events.

1. Early exit

The Vietnam team after crashing out of the 2020 AFC U23 Championship following a 1-2 defeat to North Korea on January 18, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Dong.

Vietnam began 2020 with the AFC U23 Championship in January. The runners-up of the previous edition in 2018 were expected to repeat the feat or even do one better.

But things got out of hand quickly.

After two blank draws with UAE and Jordan, a big victory over North Korea was required for Vietnam to have any chance of advancing to the quarterfinals, but they failed miserably.

The 1-2 loss to North Korea saw Vietnam exiting the tournament at the group stage. The elimination from the AFC U23 Championship also means Vietnam will not play in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics since only the top three teams qualify.

2. Gold medal rain

Hoang Thi Duyen (C) wins a gold medal at the Weightlifting World Cup in Roma, Italy, on January 29, 2020. Photo courtesy of the International Weightlifting Federation.

Also in January, Hoang Thi Duyen proved to be in hot form at the 2020 Weightlifting World Cup, winning three gold medals as she lifted successfully 92, 95 and 97 kg after three attempts in the snatch category. The 24-year-old continued her amazing performance in the clean and jerk category, where she was able to lift 116 kg.

The hattrick also strengthened her position in the world’s top eight in the 59 kg category, and moved her closer to a slot at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.

Five Vietnamese lifters won 10 golds, two silvers and two bronze medals.

3. Title defender

Truong Dinh Hoang poses with his WBA Asia East Super Middleweight belt before his title defending match on February 15, 2020. Photo courtesy of Truong Dinh Hoang.

On February 15, at the Manila Arena in the Philippines, Truong Dinh Hoang successfully defended his WBA Asia East Super Middleweight boxing belt by knocking out Thailand's Yuttanna Wongda in two rounds.

Hoang only turned professional in 2019 while Wongda, 31, was an experienced fighter though with a modest record of 14 wins and 25 losses. Hoang dominated from the start with sharp and accurate punches before flooring his opponent in the second round.

"After years of hard training, this is a victory I think I totally deserve," Hoang said.

4. Historic Olympic qualification

Nguyen Van Duong at the Olympic boxing qualifiers on March 9, 2020. Photo courtesy of Nguyen Van Duong.

Nguyen Van Duong became the first Vietnamese boxer to qualify for the Olympics in 32 years after some excellent victories.

In the 57kg category at the Olympic qualifiers in Jordan, he defeated Australian Charlie Senior to reach the quarterfinals. He then needed to beat Thailand's Chatchai Decha Butdee to win a ticket to Tokyo since six qualifiers were to go through.

Butdee had beaten Duong in the SEA Games finals last year, but it was sweet revenge for the Vietnamese this time as he won in just 60 seconds. Duong went on to win the bronze medal in the event.

5. No F1 race for Vietnam

A view of the Hanoi Street Circuit, the track for the Vietnamese Grand Prix. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.

On March 13 organizers of Vietnam’s first ever Formula 1 race, the Vietnam Grand Prix Limited Liability Company, the Formula One World Championship Ltd and Federation Internationale de l’automobile, decided to cancel the event, originally scheduled for April 3-5, since the Covid-19 pandemic showed no signs of slowing down at that time.

In early July, with the pandemic contained in Vietnam, Hanoi authorities had mentioned the possibility of holding the event in November. But a second outbreak hit the country later the same month, prompting the organizers to cancel the Vietnamese Grand Prix and remove it from this year’s schedule.

When F1 announced its provisional calendar for the 2021 season, the Vietnamese Grand Prix was absent from the schedule, which features 22 races.

The brand new 5.607 km Hanoi Street Circuit, whose construction began in March last year, has been finished, but following the long delay, some parts of it have been uninstalled to make space for other activities.

6. Impressive return

Fans fill up Thien Truong Stadium in Nam Dinh Province on May 23, 2020, as football returned after a two-month pandemic break. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.

Vietnam earned international kudos as the first country in Southeast Asia to resume competitive football even as the Covid-19 pandemic raged worldwide. On May 23, around 10,000 spectators, half the stadium's capacity, turned up at Thien Truong Stadium in the northern Nam Dinh Province to watch the clash between hosts Duoc Nam Ha Nam Dinh and Hoang Anh Gia Lai in the National Cup.

In March, Vietnam postponed all sporting events, including football leagues, when the Covid-19 situation worsened.

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) praised the early return of football in Vietnam, deeming it as "a big encouragement for regional countries to fight Covid-19 and get football back to normal."

7. Match fixing scandal

U21 Dong Thap players at the national U21 tournament in 2019. Photo courtesy of Vietnam Football Federation.

In July 11, players of Dong Thap FC’s youth team were hit with a worldwide ban by FIFA for fixing a match at the national U21 tournament in June 2019.

Huynh Van Tien, who mooted the idea of match-fixing and enticed other players to join in, was banned for five years from all football activities worldwide with effect from May. The 10 others got a six-month ban.

Back in May, the Vietnam Football Federation (VFF) too suspended these players.

8. Huge loss for Vietnamese football

Alfred Riedl, when he was head coach of the Vietnamese football team. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Dong.

Alfred Riedl, the longest serving coach of the Vietnamese football team and a person who led them to a lot of regional success, passed away aged 70 on September 8.

During his spells with the Golden Dragons, in 1998-2000, 2003-2004 and 2005-2007, Vietnam won 27, drew 14 and lost 20 matches. Some called him "the greatest runner up of Vietnamese football," because despite taking the national team to finals of several tournaments like the 1998 Tiger Cup (now AFF Cup) and the 20th, 22nd and 23rd editions of the SEA Games, the team did not win any of them.

Many people who worked with him agree that Reidl played a key part in putting the Golden Dragons on the Southeast Asian and Asian football maps. His contribution to Vietnamese football will never be forgotten and his legacy will live on.

9. The pride of Vietnamese e-sports

Le ‘SofM’ Quang Duy after the semi-final game of LoL World Championship on October 25, 2020. Photo courtesy of SofM.

On October 25, Le ‘SofM’ Quang Duy became the first Vietnamese to enter the finals League of Legends (LoL) World Championship, representing Chinese e-sports team Suning Gaming.

In the semifinals, SofM was named man of the match. He carried each game with different picks of characters in Suning’s victories, and always focusing on utility-oriented builds to make sure his characters were protected.

Though SofM could not go on to win the final, he established himself as one of the best LoL players in the country at the age of 22.

10. The new football champion

Viettel FC players lift the V. League 1 trophy after beating Saigon FC in the final game of the season on November 8, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Dong.

Viettel FC became the new champions of the V. League 1 on November 8 after winning their last match. It was the club’s first ever league title. Viettel finished with 41 points from 12 wins, five draws and three losses. They won the most games this season and also conceded the fewest goals, 16, the same as Hanoi FC. They were in superb form in the second leg of the season, winning 19 out of 21 matches.

They ended Hanoi's domination of the league, dethroning the champions of 2018 and 2019. Viettel also got a direct entry into the group stage of Asia’s top tournament, the AFC Champions League, next year.

Hoang Nguyen