AFF U23 Championship – The extraordinary journey of U23 Vietnam

A few hours after the victory of 13 Vietnamese U23 players over U23 Timor Leste in the semi-final of the 2022 AFF U23 Championship in Cambodia, a picture of a meal box for Coach Dinh The Nam and his players at the hotel was shared on the social networks and received many compassionate comments. Despite falling into adversity, U23 Vietnam still resiliently stayed on the journey, creating spectacular matches.
AFF U23 Championship – The extraordinary journey of U23 Vietnam ảnh 1 U23 Vietnam wins the AFF U23 Championship after defeating U23 Thailand 1-0. (Photo: SGGP)
Normally, football players restore their health by buffets of nutritious dishes. However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Coach Dinh The Nam and his players were only provided by the organizer with meal boxes of 3-4 dishes to relieve hunger and regenerate energy for the competition density of two days per match in the regional youth playground. With such a diet, Vietnamese players could still run and play for 120 minutes and then compete in the penalty shoot-out. It is really respectable.

Behind the victories of U23 Vietnam in Phnom Penh, it is not only the professional factor but also an unprecedented and inspirational story.

The Covid-19 storm left U23 Vietnam with only 16 players for the match against U23 Thailand in the group stage, then only 13 to play with Timor Leste in the semi-final. From the group stage, living in cramped rooms with unguaranteed nutritional conditions and concerns over Covid-19, these young players were not afraid of anything. They entered the match with the determination to follow the victories of their seniors in the Vietnamese National Football team and satisfy the beliefs of millions of Vietnamese fans waiting for their victory at home.
AFF U23 Championship – The extraordinary journey of U23 Vietnam ảnh 2 The desire for victory is the strength of U23 Vietnam in this tournament. (Photo: SGGP)
Coach Dinh The Nam told his players that they would unlikely have the same experience like that a second time, so they must put effort to make memorable memories to tell their children later. So even Dinh Hai and Tan Tai, the additional players, who had spent two hours by air and eight hours by bus earlier, still entered the field full of enthusiasm. They did not have time to get acquainted and assemble the formation with their teammates, but just walked into the pitch, listened to the tactical instructions from Mr. Dinh The Nam, and then merged into the mutual playing style of the team unknowingly. The images of Trung Thanh and Quang Thinh suppressed the pain, fell on the grass, and got up again, asking the head coach to continue to play until they could not lift their legs before leaving the field, making the spectators admire them a lot. Perhaps, during his career, goalkeeper Liem Dieu never thought that his position in his first important international match was not at the goal but the top of the attack - the center.
The Covid-19 pandemic still develops unpredictably and will bring more challenges to the next tournaments. Therefore, the experience and valuable lessons from the AFF U23 Championship playground will help the AFF, the tournament organizer, the participants, especially the VFF and the Vietnam team, be more cautious and thorough in preparation for the future.
The Covid-19 pandemic might have taken away the health of U23 Vietnam players but could not have defeated the spirit, the will, and the desire to overcome difficulties and rise in adversity to express the talents and qualities of Vietnamese people. Positively speaking, Covid-19 has accidentally brought promising young talents to Vietnam football.
AFF U23 Championship – The extraordinary journey of U23 Vietnam ảnh 3 Trung Thanh played like a warrior until he is exhausted in the match against Timor Leste. (Photo: SGGP)
In three matches in Phnom Penh, Coach Dinh The Nam used three different goalkeepers, including Y Eli Nie, Xuan Hoang, and Tuan Hung. All of them played excellently with spectacular saves. With a patched formation, U23 Vietnam's defense is currently the only team that has not lost a goal. A memorable experience for the players in, perhaps, the most exciting tournament in the history of world football during Covid-19.Flexible improvisation For the opening tournament of Southeast Asian football in 2022 not to fall into failure, the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF), together with the local organizer and representatives of the teams, had continuously held emergency meetings to handle arising situations, thereby providing solutions suitable to reality. All had agreed that each team could replace up to ten players if there were Covid-19 cases. The Vietnam Football Federation (VFF) and related units had flexibly responded to find ten additional players, who later traveled to Phnom Penh by road and air to help U23 Vietnam have enough players to join the match. Acting VFF President Tran Quoc Tuan also made telephone calls to the AFF President and the Cambodian Football Federation about the commitment of the Vietnam U23 team to never give up. VFF leaders also persuaded the AFF to make the next decision - as long as each team had seven players negative for Covid-19, the final and the third-place matches would be held. Besides the effort of VFF and U23 Vietnam, overseas Vietnamese in Cambodia were always ready to support Coach Dinh The Nam and his players. They waited for the additional players at the Moc Bai Border Gate in Tay Ninh Province to take them straight to the team's hotel. They also assisted the staff in printing the name and number of the substitute goalkeeper Liem Dieu. Therefore, Vietnam's victories in the 2022 AFF U23 Championship have shown good adaptation to the risks of Vietnam football.
For U23 Vietnam, it is lucky for the team to have enough 13 players to compete. They even fought for their teammates who were struggling in the quarantine room. Bao Toan is a striker, but he played a very good defender when he was added to the match against Thailand. Khac Luong played the central defender position. Despite his modest physique, he always prevailed in the duels with the tall striker from Timor Leste. Mai Xuan Quyet boldly said that he would play in any position the head coach asked him to.

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