Nguyen Trong Hoang is the most capped player on the current Vietnam squad
Midfielder has figured prominently in their qualifying campaign
He aims to help Vietnam to maiden progression into the decisive third round
Vietnam midfielder Nguyen Trong Hoang enters Friday's penultimate game against Malaysia in Asia's second round of qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar™ knowing that his country are on the verge of making history.
With two draws and four victories, including Monday's 4-0 rout of eliminated Indonesia, Park Hangseo's Golden Star Warriors are sitting top of a tricky Group G leading hosts United Arab Emirates and the likes of Thailand and Malaysia by two and five points respectively.
A victory against the Malayan Tigers will give them a solid chance of securing their maiden progression into the next round - at least as one of the best runners-up - ahead of the closing game against United Arab Emirates four days later.
"Vietnam have never reached the decisive [World Cup] qualifying round before," the 32-year-old Viettel winger, who missed the Indonesia game due to suspension, told FIFA.com. "However, we are now seeing the chance of progressing to the next stage for the first time in history. Playing in the World Cup is the national dream for us Vietnamese. So we play with the country's dream to realise.
"[Before arriving in UAE], coach Park had stated the ambitions of grabbing at least six points from the three remaining matches," he went on. "This is also the goal of the team. We always set the ultimate goals for each match. My team-mates and I will do whatever we can to do our country and supporters proud."
Those following Vietnam's game closely are aware of how important Nguyen is to the team. Indeed, in coach Park's largely young line-up - nearly half of which are under 23-years-old - Nguyen is a cornerstone figure. With 70 international appearances, he is the current team's most experienced player.
And he is no stranger on the World Cup qualifying scene, having featured for his country in their bid for the past two global extravaganzas. Notably, he was on target in a 2-1 defeat of Qatar on the road to Brazil 2014. In this qualifying campaign for Qatar 2022, Nguyen started in all of the opening five fixtures as Vietnam emerged as the surprise leaders with an undefeated record, including a spirited 1-0 defeat of the UAE.
"Yes, I have played for the national team for many years. But in our team, every player is playing an important role," said a modest Nguyen, who was at pains to downplay his role for the team. "We are parts of a machine and we need to connect well to be at our strongest. Personally, I will try my best and share my experiences with my youth team-mates."
Vietnam have made remarkable progress since Park took over in 2017. Under the South Korean manager, they reached the last eight at the 2019 AFC Asian Cup only to be edged out by eventual runners-up Japan 1-0. Even more exciting is the fact that a host of youth talents have been nurtured and form the backbone of the current national team.
"Many said that the biggest progress the team have made are in tactical terms," continued Nguyen. "And we have improved a lot physically, too. We are better in many details like controlling of the ball, passing and even throw-ins. Last but not least, the chemistry in the team is very good."
Notable among Vietnam's hottest prospects are Nguyen Tien Linh and Nguyen Van Toan, both of whom figured against Indonesia with the former breaking the deadlock. "They are very talented youngsters. Both of them have good technique and vision and are physically strong. They are the hopes for the future of the Vietnam team."
If Nguyen's form with Viettel in the past V.League 1 season is anything to go by, he looks set to lead the team to unprecedented qualifying success. He excelled throughout the league campaign, helping them secure the domestic title in 2020.
"I have won four league titles with three different clubs. But with Viettel it was different. After all, it was only their second season in the top flight. In Viettel, our slogan is 'Shine for a second' so I really want to keep moving forward and achieving fresh goals [in this World Cup qualifying]."