Viet Nam News
by Thanh Nga
On January 23, Việt Nam made history by advancing to the final of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U23 Championship in China.
Midfielder Nguyễn Quang Hải showed exceptional performance throughout the championship and scored two goals in the semi-final with Qatar.
His mother, Nguyễn Thị Cúc, however, is modest in not putting her son on a pedestal. “Please don’t call him a hero. I think Việt Nam’s win was the result of many factors, including a good coach and the team’s good physique and skills,” she told Việt Nam News.
“I was happy when he scored the goals, but briefly sad when he missed a penalty kick. But they were lucky that goalkeeper Bùi Tiến Dũng denied two penalties to Qatar. Dũng is the true hero of the team. I often tell Hải that his only star is on his jersey. My family was moved to see him on television playing so well. I just want him to return home safe, healthy and with victory,” she said.
Twenty-year-old Hải has been hailed as the hero of the Vietnamese team at AFC as the two goals he scored helped Việt Nam advance to the final. Earlier, Hải also scored the only goal for Việt Nam in the first qualifying match of Group D against South Korea on January 11.
Although Việt Nam lost the match 1-2, they received accolades in international media. Hải’s goal with his left foot topped the list of five most impressive goals in the AFC qualifiers.
On January 14, Hải scored the only goal for Việt Nam against the best contender for the title, Australia, who lost 0-1. This was the first historic win for Việt Nam at the biennial AFC U23 tournament and opened the door to all Group D teams competing in the quarter-finals in Kunshan, China. Hải acknowledged his mother’s contribution to the many games he had played and titles he had won.
“My mother was a strong supporter and encouraged me to follow football since I was young. If I play in Hà Nội, she will go to the stadium to cheer me on. If I play outside the capital or abroad, she will always send messages to encourage me,” said Hải.
“Footballers need a firm fulcrum when they follow the professional sport. For me, it is my family, especially my mother, who helps me overcome difficulties such as tiredness, injury and unsuccessful competitions,” he said.
Strength from late mentor
After scoring the only goal for Việt Nam in the match against Australia, Hải cried and said: “I believe you, who are in paradise, will be proud of me. I will try more.”
Many thought Hải had cried out of happiness. But few knew it was an emotional moment for him. He was talking to his late mentor, adopted father and coach Vũ Minh Hoàng of the youth training centre of Hà Nội FC (formally Hà Nội T&T).
Hoàng saw Hải’s talent and adopted him when he was nine years old. Guided by a kind-hearted coach and mentor, Hải grew up to be a good player and won many junior tournaments. But Hoàng did not live long to see him touch new heights, because he passed away six years ago in a traffic accident.
Since then, Hải has been coming to his foster father’s home after competing in international events or during holidays to light incense sticks as a mark of gratitude.
“Before each game, I think that I must play well for myself and for Hoàng. I have to complete my goal and continue on the road where Hoàng led me,” Hải said.
Vũ Thu Trang, Hoàng’s wife and Hải’s foster mother, says she was very close to Hải’s biological parents. They often talk about Hải and support him.
“I think Hải has made every effort in this tournament. I am so proud of him,” Trang told Việt Nam News.
Hải was born in Đông Anh District on the outskirts of Hà Nội. He left his family at the age of nine to join the youth training centre of Hà Nội FC. He trained to be a striker, but later realised that a position in midfield was more suitable for him.
With his outstanding performance, Hải helped the capital team win the National U19 Football Tournament in 2014 and become runners-up at the National U17 Football Tournament the same year. He also won the “best player” award in the tournaments.
In 2015, Hải and his teammates won the national U21 tournament.
2016 too was his year. He played a key role in helping Hà Nội win the national U19 and U21 events and V.League 1. He also won a silver medal at the National Cup and Super National Cup 2016.
Proudly wearing the jersey of the U19 national team, Hải led Việt Nam to the second place at AFF U19 Youth Championship in 2014 and 2015. He also competed in the AFC U19 Championship in 2016, where Việt Nam finished third to qualify for FIFA’s U20 World Cup 2017, creating history. Hải was the captain.
Donning the jersey of the U23 national team, Hải helped Việt Nam win third place in the M-150 Cup in Buriam, Thailand, last December.
At the National Premier League 2017, Hải was a key player of Hà Nội FC. He scored five goals to help the team take third place.
Hải was selected the best young footballer of V.League 1 2017 and won the Bronze Ball Award that year.
With Tết (Lunar New Year) holidays around the corner, Hải plans to celebrate with his family as he does not have to compete abroad any more.
It will indeed be a special Tết for Hải, surrounded with the warm greetings of family and fans. — VNS