|RISES ABOVE ALL: Captain Dụng Quang Nho, having just recovered from COVID, celebrates the winning goal with his team. — Photo VFF|
PHNOM PENH — Việt Nam have won the 2022 AFF Under-23s Championship after a hard-fought 1-0 victory over local rivals Thailand in the final on Saturday night in Phnom Penh.
A last-minute addition to a Việt Nam squad ridden by COVID, Trần Bảo Toàn was the hero of the night as his towering header brought Việt Nam their first-ever AFF U23 title.
Having beaten Timor-Leste on penalties in a gruelling semi-final with only thirteen players available due to COVID, Việt Nam received good news going into the final.
Captain and talisman Dụng Quang Nho and three other players returned after recovering from the virus, bolstering the squad.
Plenty of Vietnamese living in Cambodia came to the Morodok Techo National Stadium to cheer the Young Warriors on after their heroic efforts in the semifinals had won the hearts of millions.
Similar to their first encounter in the group stage where Việt Nam also won 1-0, Thailand took the initiative and tried to get the ball into Đặng Tuấn Hưng's net with everything from headers to a host of long shots.
The team pose with their first ever gold cup. — Photo Nguyên Khang
The closest the Thai's got to Hưng's goal was in the 37th minute when Thanawat Saipetch curled a shot from outside the box forcing Hưng into an acrobatic save.
Việt Nam sat back patiently and were deadly on the counterattack. One of which led to a great effort outside the box from captain Quang Nho that led to a corner for Việt Namin the 45th minute. The ensuing corner found Nguyễn Thanh Nhân on the opposite wing who crossed it for Trần Bảo Toàn to head into Narongsak Nuangwongsa's net in the last moments of the first half.
Just a goal down, Thailand pushed forward to find the equaliser. But the men in blue soon ceded control to Việt Nam. Võ Nguyên Hoàng was gifted chance after chance, but the 20-year-old could not beat the athletic Narongsak.
At the other end, Tuấn Hưng repeated his heroics from Thursday, making many crucial saves, even when his right leg was injured after a fingertip save in the 73rd minute.
Thailand's coach Salva Valero Garcia sends on two strikers in the 93rd minute to pressure Việt Nam, but it proved too little, too late, and the Young Warriors held their narrow lead to win the championship.
This is Việt Nam's first-ever AFF Under-23 Championship and a personal milestone for coach Đinh Thế Nam: the first regional men's football tournament win for a Vietnamese coach.
Nam will return to duty for the under-21s team later in the SEA Games on home soil in May, where national team coach Park Hang-seo will take over as coach of the under-23s.
"I dedicate my goal to my teammates who are currently sick, as well as all the fans who supported us," said goalscoring hero Bảo Toàn.
"It's an indescribable feeling here tonight. My appreciation goes out to the fans, the Vietnamese Football Federation as well as the Vietnamese people in Cambodia who have helped us tremendously." — VNS