With six points from three games, Vietnam will play host to
Oman on Wednesday in a crucial qualifying match for the Men's
Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008 . The battle for
progression from Group C is wide open, with three teams even on
points, and a home victory will put Vietnam in a strong position to
claim one of the pool's two places in the final qualifying
Fortunately for the team and their supporters, they can count on the talent of striking prodigy Le Cong Vinh, who has scored three times during their impressive qualifying campaign, including the only goal in their match against Indonesia on 14 March.
Although Vietnam have emerged as one of South East Asia's strongest footballing nations, transforming their regional superiority on to the international stage is still a tall order. However, the 1.71 metre tall Cong Vinh is optimistic that he can steer his side into the final qualifying stage for Beijing 2008.
"The road to Beijing 2008 will be hard for us since the opposition will be getting stronger as long as we go further into the competition," he told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview. "However, we have proved capable of toppling the big boys and I believe we can proceed into the next stage."
While the Vietnam players have impressed collectively of late, Cong Vinh has drawn applause for his individual performances and at the age of 21, the slender front-runner has been heralded as the best footballer the nation has produced since Le Huynh Duc. Indeed, he rose to prominence in 2004 by winning his country's Golden Ball, continued his brilliant form last season with Song Lam Nghe, and then took home the Vietnamese championship's principal individual honour - the MVP award - last year.
And although following in the footsteps of Le Huynh Duc is something that he is relishing, Cong Vinh has set his sights on emulating one of European football's great names: Portuguese legend Luis Figo, his long-time idol. He admitted it was the Inter Milan winger's intelligent play and sublime skills that most caught his eye when he was growing up, and it was in Figo that he witnessed the qualities that he has worked hard to develop.
"He is the type of players I admire, because he uses his mind as well as his skills," said Cong Vinh. "I think I am a pragmatic player and I favour the no-nonsense style. I never show up my dribbling skills and speed and I only use them to score."
Late start, fast progress
It is fair to say that Cong Vinh came to love football from an early age, the recollection of him screaming "Goal! Goal!" in boyhood dreams still a fond memory for his parents. Throughout his childhood, he rode his mother's bicycle a distance from his home in Quynh Lam commune, Quynh Luu district to Cau Giat town's stadium to watch people playing football.
Despite his passion for the game, Cong Vinh was a late starter, but fortunately he was given the chance to train with the U-14 side of V-League team Song Lam Nghe An in 1998, aged 14, and from then on he did not look back. He cut his teeth under coach Ha Thin, and it took just a couple of years to see him promote to the club's reserve team.
His rapid progress didn't go unnoticed when he was called into the national U-20 team in 2001, and three years later he made debut with the senior Vietnam side in 2004 Tiger Cup under Brazilian Edison Tavares , whose attacking approach unlocked Cong Vinh's potential. "His 4-3-3 formation suited me well and under him I realized my capabilities and established my confidence as a striker," he said.
More recently, Cong Vinh has enjoyed a golden period, which has seen him ascend from unknown teenager into his nation's top striker. In fact, so consistently has he rippled the back of opponents' nets that he has failed to keep count of his goals tally. "I couldn't remember the exact number, but in the last three years I scored 24 goals with the national senior team and grabbed another nine with the Olympic side," he smiled.
It is understandable that a talented player like Cong Vinh possesses lofty ambitions, but for him, the team's success will always come before personal gain. Cong Vinh's next goal is to lead Vietnam to new breakthrough in July's AFC Asian Cup when they will play as co-hosts.
"It will be the time for us to play for the country and we will give our 100 percent to build up the good image of Vietnamese football," he concluded.