Vietnam head home with stars in their eyes
It is the story of a group of friends who discover just how much they are capable of while in action. The crowning moment along the way came when they overcame Japan on penalties to earn themselves a spot at the FIFA Futsal World Cup Colombia 2016. Another memorable moment was to follow at the tournament in the shape of a 4-2 victory over Guatemala. "I was so looking forward to the first whistle and to kicking off our World Cup. That said, I struggled to envisage that we'd get a win. I'll never forget those timeless minutes," midfielder Thai Huy Tran told FIFA.com.
Having arrived without much fanfare, the Asians suddenly found themselves basking in the limelight. The images are on a continuous loop in Bao Quan Nguyen's mind and they will likely stay there for some time yet. "The announcement that we'd gone through as one of the best third-placed sides is another memory I'll always treasure," said the captain.
Not even two reality checks in the group stage – a 2-0 loss to Italy and a 7-1 thrashing at the hands of Paraguay – could dampen their enthusiasm, although they did provide some food for thought.
The latter game was a particular eye-opener, especially the spell when La Albirroja scored three goals in as many minutes. "Everything goes so quickly at the World Cup. The intensity is non-stop. You have no respite – it's a constant physical challenge. If we want to take another step up, that has to be our priority," said Tran. His team-mate echoed this sentiment, saying: "I was really impressed by our opponents' physical prowess."
A warm welcome Off the pitch, the pair were equally bowled over by the clockwork-like organisation in evidence at the global extravaganza. In Tran's words, "Everything was simply perfect, from the training facilities to the hotels and the contact with the locals. That meant that practically all we had to do was think about our game. I loved that experience."
Against this backdrop, it was easy enough to get into the right frame of mind for matches. Once the ball was in play, though, the pressure was on and enjoyment took a back seat – not least in the Round of 16 up against a Russia side determined to keep turning the screw to the very end. "We tried to savour the moment on the court, but it was beforehand and afterwards that we were mainly able to take in everything that was happening," explained Tran.
Now the Vietnamese can look forward to a rousing reception on their return home, with a sizeable number of fans expected to turn out to greet their heroes at the airport. "There will be a crowd there to welcome us," said the Thai Son Nam star, relishing a prospect that clearly cushioned the blow of the end of their Colombian adventure.
Another consolation is the chance to be reunited with their loved ones after six long weeks of separation – three in Colombia and three away preparing for the tournament. "My wife will be happy to see me again. She's been very patient. We're going to go on holiday now to unwind," said Tran, while his captain cut a restless figure, eager to get on his phone and check out the countless congratulatory messages and words of affection waiting for him. Vietnam's Futsal World Cup may be over, but the impact of their exploits will live on for a while to come.