Despite Vietnam SR's early exit from qualifying for the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™, the team were looking to continue their emergence as a regional power in South East Asia and take the Asian qualifying zone by surprise.
Grouped with Mongolia, Bangladesh and Asian powers Saudi Arabia, Vietnam finished second in the opening stage of qualifying with ten points from three wins and a draw. Their two lopsided losses, to the Saudis 5-0 and 4-0, show how far the Vietnamese still have to go to reach the top of the Asian mound.
But, there is no question that football in Vietnam is booming. The professional league set up in 2000 expanded from 10 to 12 teams in 2001, and the quickly developing teams are attracting not only the best players in the country but in the area. And, the national team is getting more support than ever before.
Vietnam's former coach, Austrian Alfred Riedl, who led the national squad to unprecedented silver medals in both the 1998 Tiger Cup and the 1999 South East Asian Games, returned to take up his old job in 2003. The joy of a 1-0 victory over Korea Republic gave way to a disappointing loss to Thailand in the final of the South East Asian Games that caused Riedl to resign his position. However, under Brazilian Edson Tavares, the South East Asians failed in their qualifying attempt for the previous FIFA World Cup as they could manage nothing more than a third-place finish with only four points from six matches in a group that Korea Republic won.
After a short tenure with Palestine, coach Riedl was given back the reigns in charge of Vietnam in 2005 and within two years he took the team to a new level where they can compete against even the continent's traditional powers.
Vietnam pulled off one of the biggest surprise in the AFC Asian Cup history as they stormed into the knockout stage of the 2007 edition as co-hosts. Their 2-0 stunner against United Arab Emirates, coupled with a 1-1 draw against Qatar, sent them through to the last eight behind group winners Japan.
If their sensational performances in the Asian Cup is anything to go by, then Riedl's players will be eager to emulate those feats when they cross swords with UAE again in the preliminary qualifying for 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ on 8 October.