Vietnam are the Golden Dragons, not Dark Horses
Photo: Andy Ta, CC BY-SA 3.0
The AFC Asian Cup is taking place right now. The likes of Japan, Iran and South Korea may appear as the frontrunners but I am supposing there is a new challenger ready to become the face of Asian football: Vietnam.
I have had this idea for an article in my head a while. Tracking their progress as it continually escalates to new echelons, whereby I have been forced to restart the piece. For this reason and more, I could never truly put pen-to-paper on just how incredible they are. Yet, now with them ready to take on the top tier of Asian football - there is no better point to document Vietnam, the Golden Dragons.
The AFC Cup is the new African Cup of Nations in the sense that it runs concurrently with the European domestic season; which gives pundits cause for complaint. Cue ex-Spurs legend Tim Sherwood to say that Tottenham lost the title because of Heung-min Son’s involvement. Or the Saints supporters trust formally hold Maya Yoshida with contempt as Southampton concede 20 while he’s with away with Japan. The competition started on January 5th and will conclude on February 1st. It’s a whole calendar month of non-stop Asian football held in the UAE, to mix right in with the domestic leagues and ensure insomniacs can watch the sport to tiredness is content. For me, just watching football at a normal time, being based in Japan, is truly welcomed. I digress.
Vietnam. Why are they so hot? Simply… they don’t lose. This form started back in 2017 where the Golden Dragons showed their qualities by completing a calendar year without losing a single match. Much like Kosovo did last year. By which qualifying for this very tournament. Moments like doing the double over Cambodia, the neutrally held 1-1 with Afghanistan in Tajikistan. I personally couldn’t forget the home leg as it was contested on my very birthday that year. I watched a handsome 0-0. I was never as happy to be 26.
Park Hang-Seo is not Vietnamese by birth, but this accomplishment engrained him into the hearts of their football fans. He continued this phenomenon right into 2018, resuming his zeitgeist-like transition into Vietnam. This was just another obscure small Asian team not doing much in the lower tiers in Asian football. He’s made them unbeatable. Jordan, Myanmar, and North Korea managed a point against them - yet Laos, Malaysia, Cambodia as well as the Philippines all succumbed to defeat by the football flames exhaled by the Golden Dragon. This year saw the AFF Suzuki Championship, which is contested by South East Asian countries. Vietnam won the whole competition for the first time in 10 years.
How did they do it? The defence had a lot to do with it. 80 goals were conceded throughout the whole tournament. Vietnam, during their eight games, only let in four. Dang Van Lam the goalkeeper, Tran Dinh Trong, as well as Doan Van Hau all made the tournament XI given their exceptional contributions to the title-winning team’s defensive ability.
Nguyen Quang Hai, the 21-year-old midfielder from Hanoi was also named in the team of the competition as the tournament’s best player. He’s often sitting on the midfield/forward cusp play, which gets him goals for his efforts. Four goals in the AFF Championship, 17 for his V.League team (the top goalscorer in the league) and another 12 for Vietnam U17/20/23/Olympic. This is a truly great attacking midfield player.
Can they make the transition from big in Southeastern Asia, to being big in Asia? That’s the great question. From the 200-odd teams which are ranked in the FIFA world rankings, Vietnam is placed as the 100th best team. Which statistically puts them behind both Iran (19th) and Iraq (88th). However, are above Yemen who is ranked 135th. Iran is in an excellent place right now following their participation in the World Cup.
Conditionally the Vietnamese players are also in a good place. The UAE’s weather conditions are described as nationally desert-like. Meaning it’s hot and humid all over. Ho Chi Minh City’s conditions are in fact very similar with both forecasted to be high twenties degrees Celsius with high humidity. Vietnam’s northern areas may be a little different with a wetter more tropical sensation, but players originating from there won’t be completely displaced in the UAE.