Only one Southeast Asian team remains in the AFC Asian Cup: Vietnam! The Golden Dragons have gone from almost eliminated to be on the brink of history in the blink of an eye. One player who has had a crucial role to play in this is Nguyen Quang Hai, who is quickly developing into the Vietnamese version of a certain Argentine footballer.
The last calendar year has seen the meteoric rise of Vietnam’s Nguyen Quang Hai. The 21-year-old forward started 2018 off on a positive note, when he helped his side finish second in the AFC U-23 Championships. Quang Hai scored five goals for the Golden Dragons throughout the competition, finishing behind only Almoez Ali in the top scorer charts.
The youngster started the year running and hasn’t stopped ever since.
In November 2018, the Golden Dragons went up against nine other Southeast Asian sides in a bid to lift the AFF Suzuki Cup. Once again, Quang Hai proved to be his team’s star man, dazzling the audiences with his superb skills.
Quang Hai finished the competition with three goals to his name as Vietnam went on to lift the Cup. Moreover, the 21-year-old was crowned the Most Valuable Player of the competition due to his contributions.
AFC Asian Cup: The Vietnamese Messi? Nguyen Quang Hai’s dead-ball prowess is a big asset for the best team in ASEAN
In early 2019, the 21-year-old forward, along with his teammates went to the United Arab Emirates to take part in the AFC Asian Cup. Drawn in a tough group, the Golden Dragon knew they needed a miracle to make it out. Vietnam lost both their opening matches of the competition, to Iraq and Iran, setting up a do-or-die match against Yemen. However, once the match began, the Golden Dragons looked devoid of ideas.
That’s when Nguyen Quang Hai stepped up. The youngster stepped up to take a freekick from range and converted it with an unstoppable shot, putting the Golden Dragons in the lead. That crucial goal gave Vietnam all the confidence they needed, as they ran out two-nil winners to book their place in the Knockout Stages.
It is not just the remarkably similar set-piece technique that has enabled the youngster to be compared with one of the footballing greats – Lionel Messi. Instead, Quang Hai is quickly developing into the Golden Dragons’ game-changer, much like Messi himself
Moreover, Quang Hai’s displays in the attacking third are very similar to the Argentinian, as he looks to dribble past opponents and create goalscoring chances; something which was on display when Vietnam faced Jordan in the Round-of-16.
The Golden Dragons are now facing one of their toughest challenges yet in the form of Japan! The four-time AFC Asian Cup champions are up next for Vietnam in the quarterfinals, who might turn to their own Leo Messi again, to see out the Samurai Blue.