FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan was in awe of Nguyen Quang Hai following his inspirational display on Tuesday in Hanoi FC’s 3-2 win over Altyn Asyr in AFC Cup 2019.
There has never been doubt over the raw, prodigious talent that Nguyen Quang Hai possesses.
However, what can often be the difference between the good players and the great is an ability to win a match off their own boot, and the accompanying level of consistency to do so week after week.
On Tuesday, Quang Hai certainly produced the former – with two crucial strikes to inspire Hanoi to victory in the first leg of their inter-zone semi-final – and went some way in proving he can also do the latter.
It has been a stunning 20 months for the mercurial attacking midfielder from the time he came to the fore at the 2018 AFC U-23 Championship, which was followed by equally high-profile showings at the Asian Games, AFF Suzuki Cup and AFC Asian Cup 2019.
Curiously, it does seem that he has a far greater influence on the international stage than he does with his club side, an argument that is helped by the fact that his two goals on Tuesday were his first in an AFC Cup campaign that has seen Hanoi plunder 31 in just 11 matches.
Before this is just brushed aside as a meaningless statistical anomaly, I will be the first to recognise that Quang Hai – especially with Hanoi – has been fielded in an increasingly withdrawn position on the field, and is now most often deployed as an traditional central midfielder in a 4-3-3 albeit with more license to push forward than the likes of Moses Oloya and Do Hung Dung.
Expectedly, his contribution – in terms of goals and assists – would be lower and, if he is to be solely judged on that, then coach Chu Dinh Nghiem has to shoulder some of the responsibility for that reduced outfit.
That is not to say that Quang Hai has not contributed at all to Hanoi this season – far from it.
But, the fact of the matter remains that, the 22-year-old offers so much more in a more offensive-minded role.
Against Altyn Asyr, he again started in the heart of midfield and could only watch on as a defensive lapse allowed Myrat Yagsyyew open the scoring after just four minutes at the Hang Day Stadium.
With a trademark freekick, Quang Hai grabbed an equaliser shortly before halftime and then – whether by instruction or choice – started venturing forward more frequently in the second half and duly fired the hosts ahead in the 61st minute with another left-footed stunner.
More sloppy play in defence allowed Altyn Asyr to equalise two minutes later but Nguyen Van Quyet converted an 88th-minute penalty to hand Hanoi the win, although there can be no denying the star of the show was Quang Hai.
With two away goals, Altyn Asyr will still head to next Tuesday’s return encounter at the Kopetdag Stadium confident in their prospects of advancing to the inter-zone final although their Vietnamese opponents have every chance of getting the result they need, especially with a player of Quang Hai’s prowess in their ranks.
Tuesday’s match-winning display was already noteworthy.
Nonetheless, if Quang Hai is to be viewed in the next rung of stars presently in Southeast Asian football, a repeat display next Tuesday – highlighting his ability to drag his side over the line consistently – could just do the trick.