(No.1, Vol.8, Feb - Mar 2018 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)

Four years after national hero General Vo Nguyen Giap passed away, Vietnam’s streets were once again full, this time in celebration of the U23 football team.

The team represented the nation, holding the hopes of millions of fans across the country, and the team’s victory at each game at the tournament was like an achievement for all Vietnamese peoples.

When the final tournament of AFC Championship began, not many Vietnamese fans thought their team would advance into the last games of the tournament, as the team was in the same table with giants, including South Korea and Australia. The first loss, to the South Korean team, seemed to bear this fear out.

Football is, by nature, unpredictable. The Vietnamese team beat the Australian team 1-0 in the second game, making it a historic win. Cheerful crowds appeared on the streets after that, with young people shouting and bustling from the first victory, as well as fantasizing about more.

The team tied 0-0 with Syria to step into the quarter round of the biggest tournament of the continent. Vietnamese fans were cautiously delighted. They wanted to celebrate and idolize the players, but the memory of Quoc Vuong and Van Quyen, who brought shame to themselves, their country and the game by conspiring to fix a 2005 game with Myanmar was still fresh in their minds. This generation of Vietnamese footballers was different, though. They grew up in poor families, like those in the 2005 generation, but it seemed they put passion higher than the wealth in their minds.

That was proved by the penalty win of 5-3 over the quarterfinal rival, Iraq. Many people said the win was historic and they should be content with that, not daring to go further. But, the team did even greater things. They grabbed another win at semifinal game with penaltyscore of 4-2 over Qatar. No Vietnamese dared imagine that their team would go that far, but since then, thousands started fantasizing about the final victory.

Mr Park Hang Seo & Mr Doan Nguyen Duc
Photo: Minh Tran

Almost every home and office across the country prepared for the date of final game on January 27, as if preparing for Tet itself.

Unfortunately, the team lost, but they played like the warriors for 120 minutes in the snow and cold and this moved the audiences of both Vietnamese and foreign visitors. They were later welcomed home as heroes returned from great battles. Even the golden generation of Vietnamese football in 1990 praised them as the best Vietnamese footballers ever as Hong Son was quoted in the local newspaper as saying “they were greater than our generation.”

Cheers echoed at least ten days after the team returned home, as fans showed their passion for the Vietnamese U23 team. Meanwhile, the players and coach Park travelled to the Central Highlands of Vietnam to meet with Doan Nguyen Duc, the chairman of Hoang Anh Gia Lai-Arsenal JMG Football Academy, as they were grateful for the contribution of Duc to their success.


Duc, who is chairman of the economic giant Hoang Anh Gia Lai Group, has as his true passion on Vietnamese football and he has invested much in the growth of this form of sports. The man owns a football club in his home province, which also has the name of Hoang Anh Gia Lai and is a proof of the successful businessman’s passion for football.

Photo : Nguyen Khoi

In 2007, he shocked the country’s football fans by deciding to cooperate with Arsenal JMG to open an academy. The enrollment tests for the academy were the greatest events around the country at the time, while hundreds of poor children got chance to be trained in professional football skills for free. And, almost 11 years since the first generation of trainees in the academy began, Vietnamese football has a new page of history: the first victory ever at the continent level.

Though Duc has never said today’s success of the Vietnamese U23 team was his, everyone knows he was the first who laid the foundation of victory for the team, with some key players trained in his academy.

The story so far is one of passion and gratefulness. While Vietnamese fans are grateful for truly passion of the players, the players themselves have full gratefulness to Duc, whose passion inspires the whole country.

Photo : Le Trong Khang

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