HÀ NỘI — The COVID-19 pandemic is still hitting the world of sport hard but 2021 will always be remembered as a year of stunning "first times" for Vietnamese athletes, as well as a few moments of heartbreak for the nation.
Việt Nam News looks at the 10 most remarkable sports stories of the year.
1. Việt Nam reach the final round of World Cup qualifiers for the first time
|Nguyễn Quang Hải (19) celebrates after scoring the second goal in a 4-0 win against Indonesia. — VNA/VNS Photo Hoàng Linh|
Despite a 3-2 defeat away to the UAE in the last match of the second-round qualifiers, Việt Nam advanced to the World Cup third-round qualification for the first time in history.
Competing in Group G against Southeast Asian rivals like Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, Park Hang–seo’s men went on an unbeaten run and even defeated the UAE 1-0 in the first leg, who were considered a much stronger team in the group.
Even though the national team is still yet to win any points in the final round, this achievement will always be remembered as a symbol of hope for a brighter future for Vietnamese football.
2. 2021 V.League cancelled without a champion being crowned for the first time in history
|Their best performance in recent years couldn’t help HAGL become champion again due to the COVID–19 pandemic. — Photo laodong.vn|
The Vietnam Football Federation (VFF) in September passed a resolution to officially cancel all professional football tournaments in Việt Nam in 2021, including the top-flight V. League 1 for the first time in the 41-year history of the tournament.
League leaders Hoàng Anh Gia Lai were not crowned champions even though they were leading the table at the time.
Promotion and relegation were also not applied to the V. League or First Division.
After 12 rounds of the 2021 V. League, Gia Lai were leading the table with 29 points, three points ahead of Viettel.
3. First WBO belt for Việt Nam
|Nguyễn Thị Thu Nhi celebrates after winning the WBO belt in Ansan, South Korea. — Photo courtesy of the organiser|
Nguyễn Thị Thu Nhi became Việt Nam's first World Boxing Organisation champion after winning the WBO belt in Ansan, South Korea.
The Vietnamese boxer took the title via a unanimous decision. Two judges scored Nhi with 96 points, two more than her Japanese rival Etsuko Tada, after 10 rounds of the women's mini-flyweight title fight.
She made history as the first-ever Vietnamese boxer to win a professional WBO belt.
4. Lê Văn Công won Paralympic silver in powerlifting
|Lê Văn Công of Việt Nam won silver in the men's 49kg powerlifting event. — Photo courtesy of Vũ Trọng Hải|
Paralympic weightlifter Lê Văn Công lifted the nation’s spirits by taking a stunning silver medal at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, Việt Nam’s first and only medal at the games.
In incredible scenes, Công was pipped at the post, not because his opponent lifted more, but because Công was 100 grams heavier. Under Paralympic rules, if weightlifting is tied the higher placing goes to the lighter athlete.
While the 37-year-old Vietnamese athlete could not retain his gold medal from the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, which he took after setting a record of 183kg, he nevertheless exceeded expectations as he has suffered from severe tendonitis and a left clavicle arthritis injury since the start of the year.
5. Việt Nam futsal falls to Russia - again
|The Việt Nam national futsal team pose with Vũ Đức Tùng's shirt (who suffered a serious injury in the group stage) before the match against Russia. — Photo courtesy of VFF|
Việt Nam were knocked out of the Futsal World Cup by old foes Russia, losing 3-2 in the last eight of the cup in Vilnius, Lithuania.
The Vietnamese team fell to the same opponents at the exact same stage of the previous tournament.
They are the only team from Asia to have made the last eight not once, but twice, in consecutive tournaments.
6. Quách Thị Lan reaches Olympic semi-finals
|Vietnamese Quách Thị Lan (right) competing in the women's 400m hurdles heats against the USA's Sydney McLaughlin, Denmark's Sara Slott Petersen and Panama's Gianna Woodruff (from left to right) during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on July 31. — AFP/VNA Photo|
Quách Thị Lan made Olympic history after she advanced to the women’s 400m hurdles semi-finals in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
The Vietnamese runner placed fifth in Heat 3 of qualifications, with a time of 55.71 seconds. It was her seasonal best but was not initially enough for her to qualify for the semi-finals.
However, after Jamaican Leah Nugent was disqualified for a lane infringement error, Lan was promoted to fourth place and secured a slot in the next round.
Lan was the first Vietnamese representative to compete in an athletic semi-finals at any Games.
She was the only Asian representative among 24 athletes in the semi-finals.
7. Việt Nam postponed the 31st Southeast Asian Games
|Việt Nam is ready to host the SEA Games 31. — Photo baodansinh.vn|
Việt Nam’s dream of hosting the biggest games of the region for the second time had to be shelved until next year, due to the COVID–19 pandemic.
The 31st SEA Games had been due to take place in November and December this year, but was delayed because of rising COVID-19 case numbers in Việt Nam.
The Games will now take place in Hà Nội and 11 other northern provinces between May 5 and May 23,2022.
Viêt Nam successfully hosted the Games in 2003 and is expected to lead the medal table next year.
8. Nguyễn Tiến Minh appears in his fourth Olympic Games
|Nguyễn Tiến Minh in the match against the world's third-ranked athlete Anders Antonsen. — AFP/VNA Photo|
Despite losing his first match at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, a 0-2 defeat to the world's third-ranked badminton athlete Anders Antonsen, Nguyễn Tiến Minh still made his country proud.
The 38-year-old was the first badminton player in the history of Việt Nam to play in four consecutive Olympics, an achievement that may take a long time to topple.
9. Đặng Văn Lâm - the first Vietnamese player to start in AFC Champions League
|Đặng Văn Lâm is expected to return to his best form after suffering from a shoulder injury in September. — Photo courtesy of Cerezo Osaka|
Văn Lâm has made history as the first Vietnamese player to ever start in the AFC Champions League, turning out for Cerezo Osaka against Guangzhou.
Russia-born goalkeeper Lâm exceeded expectations and kept a clean sheet and his side ran away 5-0 to win.
Lâm is expected to keep the nation’s dream of exporting players overseas alive, following the example of players like Đoàn Văn Hậu and Nguyễn Công Phượng in the past.
10. Việt Nam relinquish AFF Cup title after aggregate loss to Thailand
|Việt Nam must step up and learn from this tournament to come back stronger in the future. — AFP/VNA Photo|
A low note at the end of a successful year for Vietnamese sport. A goalless draw against Thailand at the Kailang National Stadium in Singapore ended Việt Nam's AFF Cup defence with a whimper.
Entering the tournament as the defending champions and the only Southeast Asian team to compete in the World Cup final round qualifier, Việt Nam were widely considered favourites to retain the crown. However, goal difference saw the Golden Star Warriors slip to second place of Group B, leading them to face Thailand in the semi-finals.
In the first leg, huge mistakes from the defence, along with Nguyễn Quang Hải’s unlucky strikes that hit the post twice, gave Park’s men a deficit that they could not overturn in the second leg. — VNS