AFC Asian Cup 2019: How Park Hang-seo rejuvenated football in Vietnam

Park Hang-seo

Vietnam have defied all odds to romp into the quarterfinals of the AFC Asian Cup 2019. And after conquering the AFF Suzuki Cup, a run like this only goes on to amplify the impact Park Hang-seo has had on the sport in the country.

The UNSUNG HEROES of Vietnam’s AFC Asian Cup 2019 journey

Before Park’s arrival, the Golden Dragons’ last Suzuki Cup title win had come 10 years ago, which was their last appearance in the final of the tournament too, and they had missed out on qualification for two consecutive Asian Cups – 2011 and 2015.

When the South Korean coach was appointed at the helm of affairs for the Vietnam national team and the Under-23 side on 29 September 2017, the Golden Dragons had registered a win in only one of their previous five matches. Yet, in his first match in charge, Park led Vietnam to a 5-0 victory over Cambodia.

He hasn’t looked back since and has gone on to excel in every tournament he has taken the teams to. In the 2018 AFC U-23 Championship played in China, Vietnam qualified for the knockouts from a group consisting of South Korea, Australia and Syria under his guidance.

They then defeated Iraq and Qatar in the quarterfinals and semifinals respectively, both on penalties, before falling excruciatingly close to the finish line – their loss coming after Uzbekistan scored a 120-minute goal against them in the final.

Park then helped the U23 side to a fourth-place finish at the Asian Games in Indonesia – their best finish in 56 years. These performances gradually started changing the mood of a 95.5 million fans strong football-loving country.

2018 AFF Suzuki Cup: Vietnam’s solid defence and blistering attack

Then came the 2018 Suzuki Cup, where showing his faith in the youngsters, the 60-year-old took the Golden Dragons to a title-winning run. In the process, Vietnam held the longest unbeaten run in world football, one which went up to 18 matches and ended with their loss to Iraq in the Asian Cup opener.

AFC Asian Cup 2019: Vietnam and their road to the quarter-finals, the story so far

That last-ditch loss against the Lions of Mesopotamia and a subsequent 2-0 defeat to Iran didn’t deter them from their path though as they progressed to the round of 16 as one of the best third-placed sides. And, became the first team to the quarterfinals of the continental showpiece with a penalty shootout against Jordan in a penalty shootout.

Now they have a quarterfinal showdown with the Asian powerhouse Japan and no one has written them off. Even Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu complemented the efforts Park has put in to help rejuvenate football in the country.

“The head coach [Park] is building a good team and they have very good results in international tournament. The previous coach [Toshiya] Miura was Japanese and also had good results,” he said.

Now whether the Golden Dragons win or lose against Japan in the quarterfinal of the AFC Asian Cup, Park’s contribution to Vietnam football will never go unnoticed.