Thanh aiming to scale new heights with Vietnam
While history may repeat itself, a history-making strike can hardly be replicated. In a sense, a striker will need not only skill and vision, but also composure and luck if he is to achieve the feat which sees his name written in football folklore.
This is exactly the case of Vietnam U-20 forward Tran Thanh, who scored the match-winning goal against hosts Bahrain in last year's AFC U-19 Championship which sealed his country's maiden qualification to the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup. It happened in the all-important quarter-final stage, with the winners progressing to represent Asia in the global showpiece. Opponents Bahrain pressed hard and came close to breaking the deadlock. Having weathered the hosts' storm, though, the Vietnamese went ahead in dramatic fashion.
A long free-kick into the box was met by midfielder Ho Minh Di, but his volley was lacking accuracy. Just as the ball looked to fly off target, Tran Thanh redirected it over the goalkeeper and into the net with a first-time chip. The delicacy and importance of the goal was such that Thanh's excitement was still vividly felt when speaking with FIFA.com.
"It was a special goal," said the teenager. "We were aware that it was a decisive game so I told myself to try to score. Then the chance came. We earned a free-kick and, after a couple of touches, I was on hand to direct the ball home. It was a historic moment."
"It was more than just a goal," he added. "For me, it opened a new leaf of my career. Of course, it came as a testament to the efforts of not only me, but the entire team. It sealed our passage to the World Cup. Even today, I can hardly tell you how I feel about it because it is so meaningful."
Memorable campaign Thanh can be forgiven for his emotion considering the scale of their achievement. Indeed, Vietnam produced one of the biggest surprises in the history of the AFC U-19 Championship, coming from nowhere to storm all the way to the last four and thus sealing their place at Korea Republic 2017. Under Hoang Anh Tuan, Thanh and Co. opened with a bang by stunning three-time winners Korea DPR in a 2-1 victory. They went on to record a 1-1 draw against United Arab Emirates before holding favourites Iraq to a goalless stalemate to reach the knockout stage for the first time.
"We had a very successful campaign," Thanh reflected. "Firstly, the success should be attributed to our coach's work. He (Hoang Anh Tuan) spent much time studying the rivals and came up with the proper game plans. We followed his instructions and implemented the strategies. Discipline aside, our team work and fighting spirit also contributed to our progression."
In a sense, the continental qualifier proved a precious learning opportunity. By competing against Asia's best teams, the Vietnamese players not only gained international experiences and exposure, but also learned lessons. "This was Asia's top tournament at this age level and we found we were lacking in many fields. We have to improve our techniques and, more importantly, we should enhance our stamina. We should learn to maintain our focus throughout the entire 90 minutes."
World Cup call Born to a football-mad father, Thanh was encouraged to play the beautiful game at a young age. At 13-years-old, he was recruited by local Hue FC and has since featured for the second-division side's first team. Throughout his development, the ambitious youngster has been inspired by a series of global stars, with Fernando Torres his main idol.
"I favour players like Neymar and Ronaldo. But Torres is my favourite. I even use Torres as my Facebook nickname. He has good body balance and has brilliant gait. He is the forward that every coach wants to have in their team," he said.
Now Thanh has the chance of rubbing shoulders with the world's best youth talents, with the U-20 World Cup drawing nearer. France, Honduras and New Zealand are the hurdles which Vietnam have to overcome if they are to replicate their Asian success on the global stage. Despite the daunting task that lies ahead, Thanh remains upbeat. "For every tournament I participate, I usually set the highest goal for myself. If you want to win the games, you must have the winning mentality. The U-20 World Cup is the biggest tournament for us and I will do my utmost to do our supporters proud."