Illustration by Trịnh Lập
By Nguyễn Mỹ Hà
The dreams of millions of Vietnamese people came true on Tuesday night. They had been dreaming for 30 years, or was it 60 as some said? Now it doesn’t matter, as the dreams are reality.
The Việt Nam men’s U22 football team won a gold medal at the 30th Southeast Asian Games in the Philippines by defeating Indonesia 3-0 in the final. A popular saying goes ‘phúc bất trùng lai’, which means happiness does not repeat itself, but the men’s victory came just days after the women’s team won their own gold medal at the Games. Double happiness, truly, because despite the fact the women’s football team had won for the sixth time, it was the men’s first triumph.
“Though this is the sixth time,” said women’s coach Mai Đức Chung, “I still feel very touched.”
Sheer joy and happiness brightened the faces of millions of Vietnamese not only in Việt Nam but anywhere in the world where there is a Vietnamese community.
Well into the night, thousands of motorbikes stormed the streets of Hà Nội, Huế, Đà Nẵng, Hồ Chí Minh City and other cities and towns, honking their horns to cheer the national team. The next day, air pollution was reported to have hiked by three times compared to the day before the final.
Yes, we are all overjoyed and happy. But we need to find a better way to express it than just burning fossil fuel to choke ourselves.
Perhaps for the first time, the Vietnamese footballers were recorded to be taller than their opponent by an average 5cm. They were all home grown, while the star of the match Đoàn Văn Hậu has made his way to play football in the Netherlands for SC Heerenveen.
In the final, Hậu hurt Indonesia star Evan Dimas in a challenge, injuring his ankle to the point where he had to be substituted.
During the medal awarding ceremony, it was hard not to feel sympathy for Dimas as he looked badly injured and gutted to have missed out. Hậu came over to apologise to Dimas and gave him a hug.
Despite my loyalties clearly lying with our national team, I, like many of my friends and colleagues, wished Indonesia could have scored just one goal as reward for all their efforts.
Football is a sport, but sometimes, it becomes as harsh as a war, where the winner takes it all, and the loser is left with nothing.
Late on, even though Việt Nam were already three ahead, coach Park Hang-seo grew outraged with the referee, seemingly angered at decisions going against his side. He protested and overreacted to the point where he was sent off. Can you believe it, a red card, for the coach in the final!?
To millions of Vietnamese viewers, who adore coach Park, he was just sticking up for his boys, our boys. He reacted as if he were an outraged father trying to get justice for his sons.
Others have said that everything that happens publicly during a match at this level is a calculated move, not just the natural way things evolve. It’s a grown adult’s game and the rules are harsh, and coach Park is no exception to them.
“I do not want to see Mr. Park showing his unsporting attitude in a sporting environment,” wrote one viewer on a social network. “Việt Nam already scored three goals, and it was getting towards the end, there was no need to make such a scene. If you think of him as a dedicated father, then think of the father of the Indonesian guy who was so hurt he had to sit in a wheelchair to receive his silver medal! This is sport, let it be real sport!”
Yes, that would happen in a perfect world. But this is reality. In today’s Việt Nam, nothing can bring people together as one nation like football. Even Vietnamese living overseas and even the people of the coach’s country, South Korea, feel connected. Since Park became Việt Nam’s coach, he has become even more famous in his home country than when he worked there.
He came to Việt Nam just to explore a possibility before retirement, but Việt Nam became an entirely new, exciting and successful chapter of his life.
Thank you, Park Hang-seo for what you have done for Việt Nam. And thanks to the football insider, Đoàn Nguyên Đức, for bringing him home to Việt Nam.
There were people riding the streets waving Korean flags.
Việt Nam and South Korea, despite all their differences after pursuing opposite ideologies and standing on opposite sides in war, are now closer thanks to football.
As peace-lovers, we want sport to remain sport, not a tool to impose the rules of a stronger and more powerful side on the other.
The true champions also need the respect of the runners-up. Looking at the sad faces of the Indonesian team, I wish we could have shared our joy with them. Let sport be something we can all cherish, not where one side must dominate the other.
What we can cherish is the Vietnamese spirit, which lifted us through difficult times, when we lacked everything. The world-famous Vietnamese resilience led us out from a poor, war-stricken country to what we are now. The Vietnamese determination to strive for better is a quality we all need to hold on to for our children’s children.
So we’re champions now and one day we won’t be, but the leading light, the glue that pulled people together should last longer, for many years to come. VNS