HÀ NỘI – The Vietnamese national football team sent its fans into rapture yesterday, pulling off a stunning upset to knock out former champions Iraq out of the Asian Football Confederation U23 Championship.
A thrilling, seesaw quarterfinal match at the Changshu Stadium in China ended 3-3 after extra time, setting the stage for nail-biting penalty shootout.
Viet Nam prevailed 5-3, sparking boisterous celebrations nationwide. All Vietnamese penalty takers found the net, while custodian Bùi Tiến Dũng became the man of the hour, saving one kick from the Iraqi side.
It is the first time that Việt Nam, the only Southeast Asian representative remaining, has reached the semifinals of this tournament.
Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc immediately sent a congratulations letter to the team and coach Park Hang-seo, saying the victory brought pride to Việt Nam and its sports.
Việt Nam, who have never passed the group rounds in earlier editions of the tournament, got off to a flying start, taking the lead just 12 minutes after the first whistle.
A corner kick curved into the box and reached Phan Văn Đức, who got the opportunity to play after defender Phan Văn Hậu was unexpectedly sidelined with injury.
Đức’s volley from near the 5m area went to striker Nguyễn Công Phượng, who just tapped the ball into the net.
Iraq piled up the pressure as they sought to equalize, and their efforts bore fruit in the 29th minute, after referee Christopher Beath of Australia pointed to the spot following a foul on Iraq’s Aymen Hussein. Dũng, who’d saved a penalty in a previous match, almost pulled off another save, but the score was leveled.
For the rest of the match, players from both sides, especially the Iraqis, created several chances without scoring.
A flurry of Iraqi attacks marked the beginning of extra time, pushing Vietnamese players into their own half and work hard to defend their goal. But just four minutes into the first additional period, Hussein headed in Bashar Resan’s corner kick to put the Iraqi nose in front.
Việt Nam restored parity in the 108th minute as keeper Ahmed Basil’s mistake gifted possession to Nguyễn Quang Hải, and he set up Đức to score.
With just five minutes to go, Việt Nam took the lead again with substitute striker Hà Đức Chinh scoring his first goal of the tournament. He headed home captain Lương Xuân Trường’s corner kick, leaving the Iraqi camp fraught with worry.
But, the very next minute, Alaa Mhawi struck home from a tight angle, sending the game into a shootout.
Resan’s attempt to chip his penalty down the middle of the goal in the opening spot-kick failed to fool goalkeeper Dũng. Four other Iraqis, including Hussein, did their job, but Viet Nam was not going to be denied a historic win, with all their players keeping their composure amid heightened tension to find the opponent’s net.
Viet Nam will take on Qatar in the semifinals in Changzhou on Tuesday.
Speaking at the post-match conference, coach Park Hang-seo of Việt Nam thanked all the fans for their unstinting support.
He’d told his players prior to the game that their mission was not easy but they had the team spirit and determination not to give up until the last whistle.
Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Nguyễn Ngọc Thiện sent the team his second letter of congratulations within four days.
He thanked coach Park and the team for a great quarter-final match that brought “incredible feelings” to Vietnamese fans. They had made the whole nation happy and proud, the Minister wrote.
On the other side, coach Abdulghani Shahad was quoted by the-afc.com as saying: "I apologise to the Iraqi fans, I think that our team played a good match, especially in attack. However, our defensive mistakes cost us the goals as Việt Nam scored twice from corner kicks.
“Mistakes can happen in football, and I take the responsibility for any bad result, regardless of the players’ mistakes, as mistakes are part and parcel of football." – VNS