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U19 offers fresh start for football

HCM CITY  —  A new pool of promising players and generation of fans have fuelled the hope that football competition in the country will experience a resurgence after a long period of stagnation plagued with problems from coaching controversies to match-fixing.

Team spirit: Vietnamese fans fill all 40,000 seats at Ha Noi's My Dinh Stadium on Thursday to encourage the national U19 team at the regional championship.
Team spirit: Vietnamese fans fill all 40,000 seats at Ha Noi’s My Dinh Stadium on Thursday to encourage the national U19 team at the regional championship.

On Thursday night, it was evident that the country’s third football generation, had become a drawing card, as more than 40,000 fans turned up to fill the My Dinh National Stadium to cheer the national under-19 team in their 4-1 victory over Myanmar.

While the victory secured the host team a place in the final — where they will meet their formidable opponent, Japan, whom they narrowly lost 3-2 in the group stage— the match also marked the birth of a new group of football fans.

The win over Myanmar on Thursday night caught many people, many of whom were football experts, by surprise despite Viet Nam had defeated Myanmar so many times in the past, including wins with big margins.

This can only be explained that young football fans seemed to have found their new football idols, whom they can trust to win in regional and international competitions.

While the Olympic and senior national teams have been underachieving in recent years and a domestic league is full of problems, from refereeing quality to match-fixing accusations, the national under-19 team has renewed fans’ hope and faith.

The U19 team, with core players from the Hoang Anh Gia Lai-JMG Football Academy, where they have lived and trained for the past seven years, displayed a beautiful and efficient football style, which reflected their improved technical skills.

The U19 team’s rapid rise to the centre of attention began with a runner-up finish at the Southeast Asian Under-19 Football Championships in Indonesia and a good qualifying campaign at the Asian Football Confederation U19 Qualifiers in Kuala Lumpur, in which the team won all matches, including a famous 5-1 win over Australia.

After a disappointing performance at the Nutifood Cup International U19 Football Championship in HCM City, in which Graechen Guillaume’s players lost all three matches, including a 7-0 loss to Japan, the team took long training trips to Europe and Japan.

Fans saw a new U19 team at the U22 football championship in Brunei, beating all of their opponents on their way to the final, where they narrowly lost 4-3 to Myanmar.

But it’s not all about the results. The U19 players excited fans because they showed they had good technical skills as players.

The team, for example, has players who can dribble past five or six taller and stronger defenders to score.

It also has players who can score from a direct kick far away from the goal, and score goals in a way that is similar to players in European leagues.

The Vietnamese players have also been educated about fair play in football and as a result the referees rarely put their hands in their pockets to take out yellow cards.

The team has yet to receive a red card in four international competitions played this year.

The players can also communicate in English with some degree of fluency, something that only a very few Vietnamese professional athletes can do. They also know how to pay tribute to fans and enjoy victories after their matches.

Future challenges

Nothing is perfect, however, and the U19 team is no exception. While they are very good players technically, they do not have a good size, which is a significant disadvantage, especially when they compete in international tournaments with taller and stronger opponents who have the same level of technical ability.

Midfielder Luong Xuan Truong is the tallest player in the team, but under 1.8m. Most players are around 1.7m tall.

If the players do not have a chance to develop their ability and bring it to the next level in a more advanced football environment, it would be hard to say if they can compete at the Asian level.

These players should compete in V-League clubs, which have the capacity to guarantee a place in Asia’s club-level football championships, especially the AFC Champions League. In that way, they could push their potential ability to the limit.

Viet Nam might also have a bigger chance of success on a larger football stage if their talented players can play in top leagues such as K-League or J-League.