Vietnam’s young footballers get rock-star welcome home

Vietnamese celebrate in downtown Hanoi after their team defeated Iraq in the AFC U-23 Championship quarterfinal. (AFP)
Updated 28 January 2018
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Vietnam’s young footballers get rock-star welcome home

HANOI: Vietnam’s U-23 football squad got a rapturous welcome home Sunday from thousands of fans lining the streets of the capital, even though they fell short of a championship win.
The underdogs became overnight celebrities in the football-crazy nation when they reached the finals of the U-23 Asian Football Confederation tournament in China on Saturday.
Undeterred by their 2-1 loss to Uzbekistan, crowds massed to catch a glimpse of the players, who were expected to meet Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc later.
“I wanted my children to learn from the wonderful strong will of those young footballers,” said Tran Thuy An, who had been waiting for hours on a flyover for the team bus to pass by.
Surrounded by fans and well-wishers who shrugged off light rain, the double-decker took five hours to reach the city center from the airport, a journey which normally takes 40 minutes.
“This amazing parade has never happened in Vietnam,” said state-run Vietnam Television in an hours-long live broadcast, commenting on the sea of red and gold in the city.
Vietnam defied the odds to reach the final, blowing past regional heavyweights Iraq and Qatar.
Observers praised the way the team united the country. “There have never been that many national flags in Hanoi in decades,” said 77-year-old resident Ha Anh Tue.
Tue compared the outpouring to the liberation from the French in 1954 and reunification after the Vietnam war ended in 1975.
“U-23 made history for Vietnam’s sports,” Tue told AFP.
Captain Luong Xuan Truong was humbled by the overwhelming level of support.
“I feel amazed,” he told afc.com. “We were really happy to see them in the stadium. They have always tried to support us and brought along a significant energy. I hope they didn’t catch a cold. Once again, I want to say ‘thank you’. I want the supporters to keep supporting us and in the future, we will try to bring Vietnam further.”
Xuan Truong vowed to better himself with his club in the V.League, and already has his eyes set on the 2018 ASEAN Football Federation Cup in November.
“I will try to improve and perform with my club,” he said. “As for the national team, we have AFF Cup to look forward to, and we will try to win the tournament.”
— AFP


Irishman Shane Lowry wins see-saw Abu Dhabi battle over Richard Sterne

Updated 6 min 35 sec ago
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Irishman Shane Lowry wins see-saw Abu Dhabi battle over Richard Sterne

  • It was Lowry’s first win since the World Golf Championship-Bridgestone Invitational in August 2015
  • Lowry held his nerves on the back nine to make up a deficit of four shots after losing a three-shot advantage

ABU DHABI: Ireland’s Shane Lowry won a see-saw battle with Richard Sterne, needing a birdie on the last hole to win the $7 million Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship on Saturday.
Lowry held his nerves on the back nine to make up a deficit of four shots after losing a three-shot advantage early in the final round.
He closed with a one-under par-71 round for a one-shot win over Sterne, who shot a final round of 69.
It was Lowry’s first win since the World Golf Championship-Bridgestone Invitational in August 2015 and he is expected to rise to number 40 in the world ranking from his current 75.
Netherland’s Joost Luiten made two eagles in his round — including a hole-out second shot on the par-four ninth hole — to shoot a 65 on a windy Abu Dhabi Golf Club course to finish solo third at 15-under 273, one better than South African Louis Oosthuizen (66).
World number two Brooks Koepka (70) finished tied ninth on 277, which meant that England’s Justin Rose will remain the world number one irrespective of his finish this week on the US PGA Tour’s Desert Classic.
“It was an emotional roller-coaster today. I obviously went out with the lead by a few and before I knew it, I was four behind. I was brave out there today. I grounded out well and I’m over the moon,” said Lowry, who received $1.16 million for his fourth European Tour title but the first in which he led wire-to-wire.
“People looking from the outside probably thought I was gone, but I holed a couple of great putts on 12 and 13 and I knew I was in it then.
“I said to my caddie walking down 16 that (if I got) three fours on the last three holes we could have a shout here.
He said he had talked in depth with his coach Neil Manchip before the tournament “about hanging in and staying in there no matter what I do and no matter what I shoot and what shots I hit.”
He added: “It definitely helped me out there today.”
Sterne was quick off the blocks and caught up with Lowry with birdies on his first three holes. The Irishman had also started with a birdie on the opening hole, but dropped a shot on the par-four third and found his three-shot advantage at the start of the day soon vanished.
Lowry regained the lead when he birdied his 10th par-three hole of the tournament on the fourth, but the South African chipped in for a birdie on the difficult par-four fifth hole playing into stiff headwind.
However, he did not enjoy the cushion for long and missed a par putt from a couple of feet on the sixth to tie again with Lowry on 17-under.
The tournament looked like becoming a two-horse race, with their closest rivals five shots behind at that stage, but the next two holes changed the equations completely.
Sterne birdied the par-five eighth hole to go one ahead. Lowry then hooked his tee shot straight into the water on the par-four ninth and wound up with a bogey, while Sterne made another impressive 15-foot birdie putt to go ahead by three at the turn.
The drama continued on the back nine. A bogey by Lowry on the 11th hole gave Sterne a four-shot advantage, but the burly Irishman bounced right back with back-to-back birdies on the 12th and 13th holes.
Sterne then dropped shots on the 14th and 16th and the duo headed to the 18th hole tied on 17-under par.
Both found the fairway, but the South African pushed his second shot into the cart path on the right. He failed to get his up-and-down from there, while Lowry, on the green in two, two-putted for the decisive birdie.
“I’m just glad that I gave a good performance this week with a strong field. It’s been a while since I’ve had a decent tournament, so I’m pretty happy with the way I performed,” Sterne said.
The win takes Lowry to the top of the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, while Sterne’s long wait for a title — his last was at the Joburg Open in February 2013 — goes on.