Coach Park Hang-seo has a daunting task this week. Photo: thanhnien
Someone once told me that he loved cricket but always had a nagging thought in the back of his head that it was a distraction from the issues that really matter in life.
I felt pretty sorry for him, that he felt guilty for taking his focus off all the misery and injustice of the world for just a few hours (or days I suppose) to enjoy something that brought him great pleasure.
Sometimes we all need and deserve a distraction.
With COVID-19 deaths topping 300 on a daily basis, cases in excess of 10,000 each day and huge numbers of people out of work and struggling to feed their families, I think now qualifies as one of those times where we could all do with a distraction.
Enter, stage right the national football team and the first two matches of the third round of World Cup qualifying.
Park Hang-seo’s men take on Saudi Arabia in Riyadh in the early hours of Friday before facing Australia at home early next week.
If we’re being realistic, it’s going to be tough for Việt Nam to take anything from these two games.
Playing away to perennial World Cup qualifiers Saudi Arabia is a daunting start to this historic campaign, while the Socceroos will arrive in Hà Nội with a squad almost entirely made up of quality players based in Europe.
A single point from the two matches would be a positive result depending on how the team plays, while a win in either match would be remarkable, realistically speaking.
But screw being realistic.
In some ways these days leading up to big matches are the best part of being a football fan, the liminal space between fantasy and reality, the moments before hopes and dreams collide with the inevitable force that is the real world.
So let’s dream, at least between now and Thursday night, of what could be.
Let’s dream of getting a slice of luck against the Saudis, perhaps they have a player sent off or half their team is struck down by a bout of food poisoning (maybe they’ve been snacking on instant noodles) and Nguyễn Tiến Linh nicks the winning goal.
And the Aussies? Let’s imagine the not unrealistic scenario (at least in my dreams) that they come to Mỹ Đình Stadium expecting to walk all over the plucky Vietnamese and are in for a rude awakening. A sumptuous Nguyễn Quang Hải free-kick and a thumping, captain’s header from Quế Ngọc Hải send them home tails firmly between legs. I’m pretty sure Socceroos have tails to put ‘tween their legs.
I know between now and Thursday plenty of people will be dreaming of that most unrealistic, most intoxicating series of events, and why shouldn’t they?
So sign me up for a distraction from the pandemic and all the misery it entails, it’s time to dream Việt Nam.
Dream of punching above your weight, dream of taking scalps across the continent, dream of the đi bão (storming the street) to end all đi bãos, and dream of Qatar, even if it’s just for a few nights. VNS