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


FOUR THINGS WE LEARNED: A classic clash, sublime New Orleans Saints and a bad break for Alex Smith

Updated 20 November 2018
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FOUR THINGS WE LEARNED: A classic clash, sublime New Orleans Saints and a bad break for Alex Smith

  • Saints once again show why they are serious Super Bowl contenders.
  • Unlucky Alex Smith suffers a horror injury.

LONDON: This is the time of year that can either make or break a team’s regular season. Are they headed for the playoffs or are they set to be on holiday in January? Here is what we learned after week 11 of the NFL.

RAMS AND CHIEFS SERVE UP A CLASSIC

Where to start analyzing Monday night’s epic in Los Angeles? It was certainly one of the best games of gridiron I have ever seen. From the first kick-off to the final seconds, both sides threw caution to the wind, with the Rams winning by three points in a 54-51 nail-biter — on the way to producing a classic clash that will still be talked about for years to come. 
American Football is often criticized for being too “stop-start,” but watching these two Super Bowl favorites go hammer and tongs for four quarters would have been enough to convert any detractor.
To put into context just how explosive both teams were, it was the first time two teams have scored more than 50 points in a match in the history of the NFL.
While many are praising the defensive qualities of a playoffs-bound Chicago, we are just glad the defensive units did not bother showing up for this one and we had the privilege of watching two blistering offenses in full flow. If either of these teams goes on to win the Super Bowl, they can pinpoint this match as one of the key moments of their season.

It was raining touchdowns in the all-time classic between the Chiefs and the Rams.



SAINTS CHANNELLING THE SPIRIT OF 2009

When the league fixtures were announced in the summer, the Saints-Eagles match-up was singled out as a test of the two team’s NFC championship credentials. Unlike the Rams and Chiefs extravaganza, though, this ended up being a damp squib of a game. 
Philadelphia just did not turn up, while the Saints — the hottest team in the league at the moment — were imperiously led by Drew Brees to a blowout 48-7 win, which now sits in the record books as worst defeat in the Eagles’ history. 
Brees threw for 363 yards and four touchdowns, meaning that the 9-1 Saints have now scored 40-plus points in three matches in a row and have become the first team in the Super Bowl era to post at least 40 points six times in the first 10 games of the season. It will take a very good team to stop this Saints side from claiming glory in Atlanta next February.

Drew Brees was once again in imperious form for the ever-improving and dangerous Saints. 



PURE ATHLETICISM TRUMPS TACTICAL PLAY-CALLS

Gridiron is an extremely technical and tactical sport, with coaches and players spending weeks perfecting certain plays. But sometimes a moment of sheer athletic prowess wins out and blows all the spreadsheets and playbook analysis out the window. Week 11 saw its fair share of brilliant moments — from Kenny Golladay’s sublime touchdown catch for the Lions against Carolina, to Juju Smith-Schuster’s unbelievable grab for the Steelers on a late, game-winning drive, not forgetting Odell Beckham’s strength to hold on in the end-zone for a Giants score against Tampa Bay. And those moments are exactly why millions of people tune in to the NFL every week.

Kenny Golladay with his moment of magic during Detriot's 20-19 win over Carolina. 



THOUGHTS WITH ALEX SMITH

Much progress has been made in preventing concussion and serious head injuries in the NFL in recent years. Rule changes and safety measures have been implemented, and we are beginning to see a reduction in the number of head and neck traumas. But in sport, horror injuries can happen — and there is little the league can do to prevent the kind of leg breaks Washington’s Alex Smith suffered during their game against the Texans. Everyone watching immediately knew the severity of the break, and it is clear Smith faces a lengthy recovery. Such injuries can end careers. Here’s hoping he makes it back.

Alex Smith being stretchered off after his horror injury suffered against the Texans.