AFF Cup

Football fever lights up Vietnam after regional success

Vietnam celebrate with the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup
© Getty Images
  • Vietnam end drought to be crowned southeast Asian champions
  • Victory continues boom period for Vietnamese football
  • AFF Cup marked by massive crowds across the region

Car horns, fireworks, national flags and football chants. It may sound like Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro or Rome but in fact it was Hanoi on Saturday night, as Vietnam’s capital celebrated the end to a decade-long wait for international silverware.

Vietnam triumphed in dramatic fashion with a 3-2 aggregate scoreline against Malaysia, all in front of a raucous and colourful crowd at the My Dinh Stadium. It was a fitting finale to the AFF Cup, the biennial southeast showpiece, a tournament which rarely fails to deliver on or off the field.

Make no mistake, this is a competition that truly captures the imagination of a region featuring well over half a billion inhabitants. The two-legged final drew some 130,000 spectators, highlighted by an 88,000 crowd at Kuala Lumpur’s famed Bukit Jalil stadium. The average crowd during the course of the five-week home-and-away ten-nation tournament was just shy of 30,000.

Victory highlights a period of unprecedented success for Vietnamese football. Coach Park Hangseo led the nation to a recent semi-final appearance at the Asian Games, and the U-23 team to the AFC U-23 Asian Cup final. Just over 12 months ago, Vietnam made their debut at the FIFA U-20 World Cup.

It was a milestone tournament in many ways. Malaysia’s elimination of Thailand at the semi-final stage meant the War Elephants missed the decider for only the second time since 2005. Meanwhile, regular contenders Singapore and Indonesia failed to progress from the group stage.

2018 AFF Cup
Champions: Vietnam (second title)
Runners-up: Malaysia
Semi-finalists: Thailand, Philippines
Group stage: Myanmar, Singapore, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Timor-Leste

Talking points
Trio impress ahead of continental campaign
Vietnam, Thailand and Philippines will all feature in next month’s expanded AFC Asian Cup. Philippines enjoyed a solid tournament reaching their fourth semi-final in five attempts, but breakthrough qualification for the final again eluded them after a hard-fought 4-2 aggregate semi-final defeat against Vietnam. UAE 2019 will be their maiden continental tournament, while Vietnam have qualified for the first time, other than as hosts or as South Vietnam.

Big name coaches
The AFF Cup was marked by the tournament debut of two charismatic coaches, albeit at either end of their respective journeys. Japan icon Keisuke Honda took charge of Cambodia, though only for a brief period when playing commitments at Melbourne Victory permitted. Swede Sven-Goran Eriksson, meanwhile, commenced a new chapter in his much-travelled career leading Philippines ahead of next month’s Asian Cup debut.

The highs and lows of a striker
Thailand star forward Adisak Kraisorn netted eight times during the tournament to comfortably finish as the tournament’s leading scorer. Yet his tournament ended in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons, after missing an injury-time penalty that would have put his side into the final at Malaysia’s expense. Nguyen Anh Duc, however, carved his name into the annals of Vietnamese football alongside 2008 hero Le Cong Vinh, by scoring the winner in the final.

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