by Cong Binh&Ha Nguyen
We are in the midst of a global event that has excited hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people of all ages and from all walks of life.
However, 67-year-old To Minh Vinh, a veteran of several world cups, feels the excitement this year is not as palpable as it used to be in Viet Nam.
The resident of Ha Noi's Hai Ba Trung District, a fan of the Italian team, feels one of the main reasons that people here not as enthused as usual is concern about the country's sovereignty being violated by Chinese aggression.
"At most corners and coffee shops in and around the city, you can see that the discussion, more often than not, centres around China's agressive actions (illegally placing an oil rig in Vietnamese waters).
"They are thinking about how to protect the country's waters by supporting fishermen and law-enforcement forces on Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) islands."
Cao Hoang Tung, a student of the National Economics University, said he and many of his friends were ignoring World Cup paraphernalia and buying Vietnamese national flags because "we want to confirm to the world that Hoang Sa and Truong Sa islands belong to Viet Nam.
"We are ready to go to there to protect our sovereignty."
Those were the days
Vinh said his fondest World Cup memories are of the one held in Italy in 1990. He said the excitement among fans could be felt one or even two months before the tournament kicked off.
I (Cong Binh) used to be a fan of the former Soviet Union team during the 1986 World Cup when it was ousted by Belgium in a penalty shootout.
Then, the electricity shortage in Viet Nam was acute, and the power was off before the match began. We were disappointed, but could not sleep through the night. I could not wait for the morning to come so I could rush to a newspaper stand and learn what happened. The sole publisher of sports express news in the country then was the Vietnam News Agency.
After reading the scores, I could not control myself and cried out loud before a crowd of people also eager to get the news.
Nguyen Hoang Hung of Ha Noi's Cau Giay Ward has a different take on why the World Cup is "less attractive" now.
"We now see a lot of football all year round. We can watch the national league matches of many countries like Germany, Italy, France, Spain and England. In the past, we only got to see a handful of international matches a year."
Hung also said he liked that the World Cup has contributed to reducing traffic jams compared to normal days.
But the people who feel the relative lack of enthusiasm and excitement over World Cup 2014 the most are perhaps the owners of newspaper stands.
Several vendors we spoke to said the sale of newspapers during the World Cup season had fallen significantly in recent years, especially compared to the past when people even stood in queue to get a copy.
Vendor Truong Thi Ngoc of Quynh Mai Ward said very few people were eager to read the papers because they could find updates on the Internet. She sighed: "I used to earn as much as VND20 million each season."
Meanwhile, very few shops in Old Quarter streets like Hang Bong are selling World Cup paraphernalia like T-shirts, flags and souvenirs of the 32 teams competing at the World Cup in Brazil. Earlier, all things related to the World Cup were on sale a month before the event.
Nguyen Van Huan said he went to Trinh Hoai Duc, a street that specialises in selling sportswear and sports equipment, but found it difficult to find a T-shirt of his favourite team, Germany.
It also appears that despite launching big promotions for TVs and other World Cup-related appliances, shops and supermarkets have not seen the same number of customers they used to during previous editions of the tournament.
Vi Van Nhan of Hoan Kiem District said that he had changed his original plan to buy an extra 25-inch TV for the tournament because of financial difficulties.
The owner of a supermarket in downtown Ha Noi, Tran Van Manh, said sales had not increased compared with the previous World Cup.
But it is not all gloom and youngsters in particular are keenly following every match.
Nguyen Duy, a Grade 12 student of the Viet Duc high school, said despite being busy preparing for his graduation exams and university entrance exams, he and his friends were enjoying the World Cup together, not missing out on "big matches".
Coffee shops on Ho Dac Di and Luong Dinh Cua streets as well as Ta Quang Buu Street look as though they are open all night.
Ta Quang Bien, a student of the Ha Noi University of Technology, said young fans crowded these shops to enjoy the matches live.
"We love it. It is great to relax this summer after studying hard for months. This is great," he said.
Speaking for myself (co-writer Ha Nguyen), I like to sit in front of the TV and listen to sports commentator Vu Cong Lap present new and interesting information about the tournament and players, not to mention the latest news from Brazil. — VNS