Coming into the tournament as rank outsiders, little was known or expected of Vietnam outside of their region.
The Golden Stars, however, made everybody stand up and take notice with a hugely impressive opening performance at the U20 World Cup where they made history for Southeast Asia as they played out a 0-0 draw with Oceania champions New Zealand.
In nine previous matches at three different editions of the tournament none of Indonesia, Malaysia or Myanmar managed to earn even a single point with the region’s record the worst across the Asian continent.
Not only do Vietnam have that historic point, they earned it with an eye-catching display that mixed superb technique, some delightful passing sequences, an up-tempo, dynamic, approach and a very strong mentality that saw the team dominate New Zealand right from the opening whistle.
In between they missed a couple of clear-cut chances and also had a strong penalty claim denied as they were roared on by an estimated 8,000 Vietnamese fans making this easily the most electric atmosphere at the tournament outside of the opening encounter that involved the host nation.
— FIFA.com (@FIFAcom) May 22, 2017
Afterwards, FOX Sports Asia caught up for an exclusive chat with Vietnam’s ecstatic coach, Hoang Anh Tuan, as he explained how two years of dedicated preparation had resulted in this historic moment.
FSA: Firstly, congratulations for making history for Southeast Asian football; how do you feel?
Hoang Anh Tuan: Thank you, I can’t really explain how I feel but this is history. It’s been 38 years that Southeast Asia has sent nations to play at the World Cup but they haven’t got a point.
Before the tournament I made a target with the players that we wanted to create history for Southeast Asia and now we have that first point and that makes me so happy.
FSA: More than just the point though you must be delighted with the type of football that your team played?
Hoang Anh Tuan: Of course I’m happy but there was a lot of work that we did to make this possible.
From June 2015 we’ve had this group since they were 17 years old and we qualified for the AFF Cup and the AFC Championships in 2015 and 2016 because the Vietnam Federation made a decision to focus and invest in youth football and that’s why I have time to work.
Some countries have trouble with the league but our league stopped to help us prepare for this tournament – that gave me the time I needed to prepare with that support.
Next up for Asia is Vietnam at their first, outdoor, FIFA tournament. Great crop of talent that could surprise many. pic.twitter.com/6KshD0Ih58
— Scott McIntyre (@mcintinhos) May 22, 2017
FSA: Does it also help that you have some fantastic work being done at club level with Hanoi FC and especially Hoang Anh Gia Lai in terms of producing young players?
Hoang Anh Tuan: HAGL is very good but I think the work that Hanoi FC have been doing with their youth coaching is even better because they do more than football.
So our mission is to mix the work that the clubs are doing with their development and the work that the federation is doing and make a great future for Vietnam.
We are not big and we’re not strong so we must use technique – this is the style of football in Southeast Asia.
FSA: Where does that technique come from though because I’m sure you impressed a lot of people tonight with just how sharp the players were?
Hoang Anh Tuan: It’s just my luck! You know, I have players that come from their clubs with a good base level of technique and for two years, from 2015, we’ve worked together with the same group, with also the support from the clubs who agree and support what we are doing and then I was able to change the players mentality.
— FIFA.com (@FIFAcom) May 22, 2017
I changed the philosophy – you see our players are small and the opposition like New Zealand or France they’re much taller and stronger than us so how can we play with that style of football like those in Europe?
To get better of course we need to play against these kinds of players but our basic play is that we must play smart, with good combinations and passing and I’m so happy we did that tonight.
FSA: Did the mentality also please you – when it would’ve been easy for the players to freeze given it’s their first time on this stage?
Hoang Anh Tuan: In football technique is important but equally so is mentality. So while we work in training on all things, tactics, technique and so on we also have to give them belief and motivation and my philosophy is to work hard with ambition and targets and I told the players that we had a chance at history and they came with that belief 100%.
FSA: At the end of the match you made a point of going over and telling some players who were tired and sitting on the ground to get up – why did you do that?
Hoang Anh Tuan: I wanted to teach them that even if you lose or you win you must stand up. You must never drop down.
Even though we are from Southeast Asia we earned the right to be here, it was not a soft ticket to get here and the players must be proud of themselves, they must stand up and they must look forward.