Those who follow Asian football closely will know that Vietnamese passion for the game is second to none. That passion, however, hasn’t transferred to the international stage with the nation's various national teams failing to qualify for a major global competition, a fact which has left the country's millions of fans hoping for a history-making feat.
Finally, a much-anticipated breakthrough has come with maiden qualification for this year's FIFA Futsal World Cup in Colombia after a top-four finish in the recent AFC Futsal Championship. Needless to say, the milestone achievement provides an outlet for the pent-up emotion of supporters, as head coach Bruno Formoso explained.
"It was like a dream come true for the Vietnamese fans," the former Peru coach told FIFA.com. "For them, it is more than a fairy-tale success. It was significant. I am hoping and believing that the World Cup qualification will make a positive impact on the country's long-term development."
A team considered minnows even in the region, Vietnam emerged the biggest surprise packets in last month’s Asian qualifying. Under Formoso, they put in a series of eye-catching performances, notably eliminating defending champions Japan in the quarter-finals as they booked progression to Colombia 2016.
"It was not an easy campaign," continued the Spaniard, still basking in the afterglow of qualifying success. "We were not among the favourites but we surpassed all expectations. We will continue our playing style in the World Cup and showcase our never-say-die spirit regardless of the opponents. If we do so, the fans and spectators can enjoy the games as well as our showings."
Starting from scratch
Few would be aware what a tough task it was to lead Vietnam team through to the FIFA Futsal World Cup. Here was a team that had made it to the AFC Futsal Championship just twice and on both occasions they had failed to progress beyond the group phase.
"When I took over, I knew that it should be one of the hardest jobs of my coaching career," reflected Formoso, who spent 12 years managing teams in the Spanish futsal league, and assumed the Vietnam reins in March, 2014. "There was no futsal league in Vietnam. There were just a few futsal players and there were not enough competitions for them to play in.
“They also had a different mentality from what I am used to. They were thinking and working in different ways. In short, futsal was not developed so well here as in neighbouring countries."
Despite the difficulties facing him, though, Formoso got his spell off to a good start, taking Vietnam through to the knockout stage for the first time in that year's AFC Futsal Championship. Playing as hosts, his side downed favourites Kuwait 2-1 and crushed Tajikistan 10-4 to reach the last eight. That feat kick-started the team's smooth building process under Formoso. In two years he successfully moulded his side from regional underdogs into a competitive team in Asia.
"In Vietnam everyone is motivated so much," Formoso said. "During my coaching, I instilled responsibility, honesty and professionalism into the team. These are the key factors in coaching which I learned in Spain. Down the years, I have maintained my ideology and methods as I have tried transforming the team. Of course, I have made things easier by adapting to the local environs."
FIFA Futsal World Cup qualification is truly something to celebrate for a country like Vietnam, but Formoso has cast his sights towards long-term development. "Futsal in Vietnam is still very young,” he said. “We may have achieved some successes during the past two years but there is still much work to do for us.
"Most importantly, in order to ensure consistent progress we need to improve the coach training system and promote the game at grassroots level. We should make futsal mandatory in schools and establish youth leagues for youngsters to develop. The newly-established national futsal league will enter the second season and I hope there will be foreign players and coaches in the future. Then we can raise our levels and our league will get close to the levels of Asia's best leagues like in Japan, Iran and Thailand.”