|Fresh talent: The national U19 team pose for a photo before their match against China at the AFC championships on Monday. — VNS Photo Nhat Anh
by Tien Thanh
HCM CITY (VNS) — It is going to be a huge challenge for the current generation of Vietnamese footballers to match the achievements of their predecessors.
What is now considered a golden generation who played in the 1990s were led by striker Le Huynh Duc, midfielder Nguyen Hong Son, and defender Tran Cong Minh.
They transformed Viet Nam from being pushovers when the country returned to football in 1989 to becoming a top contender at every tournament between 1995 and 2000. But even that bunch had some low points – like failing to win a single AFF Cup or qualify for the Asian Cup.
When the SEA Games football event changed in 2000 to have under-23 teams competing, Viet Nam began rebuilding. They were fortunate to find an even better bunch of players and the results started coming in starting with the 2003 SEA Games in Ha Noi.
Strikers Pham Van Quyen and Le Cong Vinh, midfielder Nguyen Minh Phuong, and keeper Duong Hong Son were the stars.
In 2007 they made history by taking the country to the quarter-finals of the Asian Cup for the first time. A year later they helped win Viet Nam's first – and, so far, only – AFF Cup.
That generation too are gone but an under-19 team with the best players from all the clubs have been identified.
This group have started to become popular following some good results at recent regional youth tournaments, including three finals in a single year.
But fans were rudely brought down to earth when the team were eliminated in the group stage at the AFC U19 Football Championship without a win. They scored only two goals and conceded 10.
With other teams in the region making rapid progress, Viet Nam face a stiff challenge in returning to the top of just the region, let alone Asia.
Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia are no longer the only tough opponents since even Myanmar and Philippines are rising.
But there are some exciting players like striker Nguyen Cong Phuong and midfielders Nguyen Tuan Anh and Luong Xuan Truong, who came through the Arsenal-JMG Football Academy.
The problem earlier generations faced was that they had little exposure to higher level football with virtually no one playing abroad.
Phuong, Anh, Truong, and the others are likely to face the same problems.
They also face the problem of lack of size. An accepted dictum in most sports, including football, is that a "good big ‘un will beat a good small ‘un".
Most Vietnamese footballers are a mere 1.7m and weigh around 60kg.
In a match against China at the AFC U19 competition on Monday, the physical contrast between the two sides was stark as the Chinese outmuscled the Vietnamese boys and completely dominated the battle in the air. — VNS