John Duerden reckons Vietnamese star Luong Xuan Truong will prove that his K-League employers have missed a trick by not playing him more.
International tournaments have a habit of allowing out of favour players to get a little revenge when it comes to meetings of national teams. What England fan could forget Helder Postiga scoring for Portugal to deny England a semi-final place in Euro 2004 after enduring a dismal season in the Premier League with Tottenham?
Maybe, just maybe, Luong Xuan Truong can do the same for Vietnam in the final of the 2018 AFC U-23 Championships against South Korea and lift the trophy in front of the country in which he plays his club football.
OK, we are getting ahead of ourselves a little here with the semi-finals still to play. Vietnam have to get past Qatar and Korea need to defeat Uzbekistan, but fans back home can dream and so can the midfielder.
While Vietnam in the last four has surprised an entire nation, the fact that the 22 year-old captain has been an inspiration is less eyebrow-raising.
Xuan Truong is a quality player. One with the vision and awareness to see things before others do, the sped of thought to decide what to do before others have an idea and the technique to make it happen. He is also a man who leads by example and has been a fine captain for head coach Park Hang-seo to put his trust in on the pitch.
Unusually for a Vietnamese player, he plays his club football outside the country, in South Korea. Heading to Korea, one of Asia’s top countries was always going to be a challenge.
— PCY (@HanhnhoExo) January 20, 2018
He is good enough to play in the K-League but in his first season at Incheon United and his second at Gangwon, he has been given almost no playing time. The player has said that there is prejudice towards ASEAN players in Korea and he is right – especially among the older generation who don’t know their SNSD from their BTS.
Who knows what kind of player he would be now had he two busy seasons of K-league experience under his belt? Who knows what he would now be had he played under coaches that appreciate his talent? That is not to say that his time in Korea has been wasted completely but it could have been so much more.
It has been hard to battle that prejudice but this tournament has demonstrated to the doubters in the Land of the Morning Calm that there is talent as well as determination and dedication in Vietnam and Malaysia. Rarely in the modern era have Korea been given such a test by Southeast Asian opposition.
What better proof could Xuan Truong give than leading his team to victory over the talented Qataris in the semi-final and then basking in the focus of Korean media attention (if Korea get past Uzbekistan) in the lead up to the final.
But it is better that the player seeks pastures new. Two seasons in a new environment without much playing time is enough. This tournament is not only a chance for Vietnam to show that they are well and truly arriving as a power in Asia but it is a chance for the U23 captain to show that he is a leading star in the region.
To have a pair of ASEAN hands on a major continental trophy would be significant. It would be ironic indeed if Xuan Truong was to lift the trophy in the final against Korea and then pass the trophy along to Park Hang-seo.
How ironic that only in Vietnam has the midfielder found a Korean coach who believes in him. The results are there to be seen. Park is a very Korean coach, old school, but is a big fan of his skipper. The pair were both in tears after the win over Iraq, hugging each other on the sidelines.
The next time they embrace, Park should whisper into the captain’s ear that it is time to find a new club.
Whatever happens, the midfielder should be able to have his pick of teams around the continent. Even if the dream ends against Qatar, it is time to make the step up. Perhaps it could be Japan, China or even Australia – he led Vietnam to victory over the Olyroos in the group stage.
Even West Asia is an option. A good performance against Qatar should help reinforce the just wakening realisation that there is talent in Southeast Asia. Saudi clubs have been sniffing around Thailand in recent months. Now there can be no excuse for being unaware of the talent in Vietnam.
Xuan Luong Truong and his Vietnamese team have already made history, now it is time to make a little more for the country and also for his own career.