By Thanh Hà
After their recent success in continental football, Việt Nam is reaching for the stars.
They are setting their sights on a first ever gold medal at the Southeast Asian Games and eyeing up a spot at the World Cup.
In June a decision will be made on whether or not to increase the number of teams in the premier intenational football competition from 32 to 48.
If that happens, Việt Nam feel they have a good chance to make it to the biggest tournament in world football.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino said at the Asian Football Confederation’s annual congress last October that expanding would see the number of Asian teams competing in World Cup finals’ rise from 4.5 (four guaranteed and one play-off place) to 8.5.
“You will have [a bigger] chance,” he was quoted saying on guardian.com. “It is possible... It is feasible. We are discussing with our Qatari friends. We are discussing with many other friends in the region. We hope to have it happen. We always have to try.”
He added that the "majority" of football federations support the idea.
Gaffer: National head coach Park Hang-seo waves to Vietnamese supporters after their Asian U23 Championship qualifier in Hà Nội. — VNA/VNS Photo
President of the Việt Nam Football Federation (VFF) Lê Khánh Hải said: "Việt Nam’s football made remarkable achievement in 2018. It will be pushed up in the next years. The success showed that we have potential to grow rapidly under suitable plans and orientation. We set a target of being in the Asian top 15 in 2020 and top 10 in 2030.
"Like many Vietnamese people I also hope to see our team competing in the World Cup someday. When the World Cup opens for 48 teams, Asia would have up to nine slots up for grabs. To qualify for the event we must rank No 8 and it is for sure a difficult target that requires hard work. In short, we will do our best so that we can create opportunity to take part in it by ourselves," said Hải.
VFF Vice President Trần Quốc Tuấn also shared his opinion.
"People have different opinion on the number of teams at the next World Cup,” he said.
“I myself think that it will be a great chance to narrow the gap between Asia and other continents.
“Besides, countries can see their chances and they would support their teams better. It will make qualifiers become more competitive and interesting. Việt Nam will of course have that chance.”
He added that to be successful the preparation process was really important.
"The more we care the bigger success we have,” he said.
“It is impossible to predict results of matches but without preparation we could not have good results. Since the end of 2018, the VFF has worked out plans for 2019. It is huge work and heavy pressure. We hope that we will receive more support from partners and supporters so that teams could have more chances to take part in training courses and competitively international friendly match. It would be very helpful for them before every competition.
"2019 will be a challenging year for Việt Nam who have three important targets: 2020 Asian U23 Championship qualifier, 2022 World Cup qualification and 30th SEA Games. The first one is perfectly done. VFF will work with the coaching board to map out plans for the latter two."
Lynch pin: Talented midfielder Nguyễn Quang Hải will be one of the key players in Việt Nam’s World Cup campaign. — VNA/VNS Photo
Philippe Troussier, technical director of the Promotion Fund for Vietnamese Football Talent, was one of the first foreigners to help out.
The former coach of the Japan national team said seven years preparing for a place at the World Cup 2026 was neither too long nor too short. He would share his experience and call more experts and coaches to come and help.
Việt Nam won the AFF Suzuki Cup in 2018 and advanced to the quarter-finals of the AFC Asian Cup 2019 and broke into the top 100 of FIFA’s world rankings.
They are seeded No 99 in the world in statistics released in February.
Ranked in 16th place in Asia, and top in Southeast Asia, a lot of their success can be attributed to South Korean coach Park Hang-seo who has played a key role in lifting Việt Nam up in the world of football.
Arriving in the country nearly two years ago Park promised to bring the team into the top 100 and delivered. He also talked about the possibility of World Cup football.
While the South Korean humbly said Việt Nam needed 10 years to reach the World Cup, talented forward Nguyễn Công Phượng has faith and belief in the team he plays for.
"I always put my truth in the national team of Việt Nam, with the endless energy, consecutive efforts and luck like we had in the Asian Cup we can make anything possible," he said.
"We as players always compete with the highest spirit and under Park’s reign we could succeed in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers," he said.
"The new wave of young talented players has come in and they are in different levels of age. The country has invested in youth for about 10 years and earned sweet results."
Party time: Việt Nam win the AFF Cup after 10 years of waiting. — VNA/VNS Photo
SEA Games gold is a must
In the past 60 years of the regional biennial event, Việt Nam has never topped the podium. Park and his team want to bring the trophy home this time around.
The SEA Games organising board has recently announced the football squad would be made up of U22 players and two over 22. The news made the whole nation believe they could win.
Talented players such as striker Nguyễn Công Phượng, midfielder Lương Xuân Trường, forward Nguyễn Anh Đức and former captain Nguyễn Văn Quyết could be picked.
They will join with starlets of midfielder Nguyễn Quang Hải, defenders Trần Đình Trọng and Đoàn Văn Hậu, goalkeeper Bùi Tiến Dũng and forward Hà Đức Chinh who have been key members of both national and youth teams for many years.
They are players who won the Asian U23 Championship silver last January, the Asian Games’ fourth place last August and reached the Asian Cup’s quarter-finals recently.
"I support the decision of using the U22 plus as it would make matches more interesting,” said veteran commentator Vũ Quang Huy.
“In my opinion, with two over-22 players teams would build up a strong and more powerful formation, leading to more quality at the tournament.
"The U22+2 plan will give Park more choices in personnel to arrange his tactics. In the Asian Games last August, the team of mixed age successfully placed fourth."
Coach Park said he would be under pressure to win the gold medal especially when he takes charge of both the national and the U22 squads at the same time this November.
"Pressure is there. I have worked with the Vietnamese teams through four big tournaments. None of them was easy. But to me pressure means I have to work harder. I will not withdraw just because of pressure," he said.
And while he hopes for success, there are still concerns.
"Many U22 players, who are core of the SEA Games team, have a rare chance to compete in the local league, leading to their unstable performance.
“It is my biggest worry. I can see big gaps between first teamers and the substitutes. At the Games we play one game every two days and at least four to five matches (to reach the final), it is really hard to choose a good team throughout. I will test players’ ability and pick the best ones but to make sure the best result I need at least five weeks working together ahead of the tournament," Park said.
VFF Vice President Tuấn added: "World Cup and SEA Games are two key targets that people care about. We work on and will offer everything to serve the coach’s requirements.
“Park will have his time and teams will have training courses and friendly matches. They will also be given the best health care and nutrition to make sure they are in the best conditions ahead of the tournaments."
The 30th Games will be held on November 30-December 11.
The young players earlier this week made a bang when they trounced arch-rival Thailand 4-0 to win a place in the Finals of the Asian U23 Championship next year in Bangkok.