Vietnam’s young footballers get rock-star welcome home

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

Vietnam’s young footballers get rock-star welcome home

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