LONDON: Coach Park Hong-seo said the desire to make the people of Vietnam proud inspired his players to a remarkable victory over Qatar in the AFC U-23 Championship semifinal.
Vietnam looked to be heading out of the competition when Almoez Ali, the tournament’s leading scorer, put Qatar 2-1 ahead with just three minutes left on the clock in Changzhou, but Nguyen Quang Hai curled in a brilliant left-footed effort just a minute later to send the match to extra time and then penalties.
There Vietnam goalkeeper Bui Tien Dung emerged as the hero, saving spot-kicks from Ahmad Moein and Sultan Al Brake to send Vietnam through and set up Saturday’s title showdown with Uzbekistan.
“Before this tournament I said that we (as a team) have something special,” Park told afc.com. “This result against Qatar is a result of my players sweat and effort. I told all my 23 players to put up a tremendous fight and that they should not disappoint the people of Vietnam. They did not let them down.”
The win came just three days after Vietnam’s equally remarkable quarterfinal win over Iraq, again on penalties, this time 5-3 after the game had ended 3-3 after extra-time.
“Ahead of the fixture, so many people thought that my players would be tired and that maybe that could have an impact on the result,” added Hong-seo, 62. “However, I stressed to my players that they were not to use that as an excuse. This was a very tough game and my players knew its importance and we prepared very well for it.”
Qatar coach Felix Sanchez was disappointed to see his side fall at the semifinal hurdle for the second time in two years.
“It was a very tough game against a very good team,” said the Spaniard. “We hope that the players will look back and realize that they had a good tournament. In football, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. Today, it was our turn to lose, but I am pretty sure they are going to continue (to grow). As players they never give up and I am sure they are going to do very well in the future. I believe they will do just that.”