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⚽⚽⚽Remember Korea Republic’s stunning run at the 2002 FIFA World Cup?

John Duerden - Fox Sport Journalist believes Vietnam are doing something
similar at the ongoing 2018 AFC U-23 Championship.

🇻🇳There’s not much else to say about Vietnam except ‘WOW!’. When the
articles are written at the end of this year about football in Asia, this is a story
that is going to feature prominently despite it being just January. Memories are
not going to fade.
Không còn điều gì để nói về VN ngoại trừ ‘WOW!’. Khi mà những bài báo
được viết vào cuối năm nay về bóng đá Châu Á, đây sẽ là một câu chuyện nổi
bật được nhắc đến mặc dù chỉ mới là tháng 1. Những ký ức chắc chắn sẽ
không phai mờ.

🇻🇳The shocking thing about the semi-final win over Qatar was that it was not
shocking. Playing against a very good Qatari team that had won all previous
four games and had as much confidence as talent, Vietnam went behind but
came back to take the game into extra-time and then win the penalty shootout.
And once again, the streets of Hanoi and Saigon were full of people wearing
red.

It was reminiscent of Seoul in 2002 when Korea Republic reached the semi-
final of the World Cup to send a nation completely red. Vietnam coach Park
Hang-seo will remember it well, though, as he was part of the coaching staff
under Guus Hiddink. Or maybe he will not as the team was sealed off from the
general football hysteria. In some ways, this Vietnam team is similar to that
senior Korea team of almost 16 years ago which is not that surprising
considering the nationality of the coach.

For one thing, this is probably the fittest Vietnamese football team that has
ever played. It is full of running despite playing two games that went into extra
time in the space of three days. This has been the aspect of the team that has
perhaps surprised long-time observers of the team. The sheer hard work and
energy levels are at a new level.

And then there is the mentality of a team that now never knows when it is
beaten. Just like 2002 when the South Koreans fell behind to the United
States in a crucial group game, the team kept going, pushing and probing until
the equaliser came. The same was true on that warm summer’s evening when
Italy came to Daejeon.

Korean teams are known for their mental strength and while this is something
of a myth, there is no doubt that going behind no longer fazes these
Vietnamese youngsters. There is no panic, no resignation or doubts. Just a
desire to get back into the game. Whether the equaliser comes slowly or fast,
as it did against Qatar just before the end of normal time, there is a belief that
it will come.

There is also a ruthlessness at the moment and chances are being taken.
When the team has needed a goal, it has found one and in crucial moments.
The same needs to happen against Uzbekistan in the final.

Park is a conservative and pragmatic coach but showed against Qatar that he
is not afraid to change things around when the need is there and it was there
on Tuesday. Not only did he take off the team’s star in Nguyen Cong Phuong
at half-time, he then introduced Nguyen Phong Hong Duy on the hour. The
midfielder had impressed in the past but had fallen out of favour.

With Hong Duy on the pitch, the team switched from 5-4-1 to 4-5-1 and started
to ask questions of Qatar who were then in the lead. This was no desperate
act to try and get a goal but a measured and intelligent changing of the tempo.
Eight minutes after, the Golden Stars were level. The coach has been fully
prepared to make changes and rotate a little when necessary, seeing Vietnam
as a 23-man squad and referring to those 23 in interviews. Every player feels
involved and is committed to the cause.

The cause is a defensive one most of the time and, amid the excitement in
Vietnam, there is some debate about whether this more pragmatic style is the
right one for the team going forward. These are the right questions to be
asked and the right time to ask them. Though the time to answer is after
Saturday.

The team has come this far. Now Vietnam are within touching distance of a
major continental title. Playing in such games is great for the development of
players. Dealing with playing in finals is something that can’t be taught, you
just have to experience it. It will stand these players in good stead for years to
come.

In 2002, Park stood on the sidelines of the World Cup semi-final. That was
some experience. The AFC U-23 final is obviously not at the same level but is
a big game in its own right and a major step on the journey towards bigger
games and tournaments. That Korean team didn’t win anything of course but it
was still a magical time.

Vietnam are creating magic of their own.

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