Le Cong Vinh is a huge star in Vietnam. A national icon, the 30-year-old is way out front as his country’s leading international goalscorer, having racked up 42 goals in 71 appearances, and stands just two caps short of the Vietnamese record held by Nguyen Minh Phuong, who played alongside Cong Vinh before retiring from national-team duties in 2010.
Currently appearing in his fourth FIFA World Cup™ qualification campaign, frontman Cong Vinh has struck ten goals in 15 preliminary matches and is the captain and undisputed leader of the Golden Stars.
“I’m one of the more experienced players now,” said the three-time Vietnamese Ballon d’Or winner, in conversation with FIFA.com. “I feel I have the freedom to express my inspirations, to dribble, to shoot and to try things. When I was younger, I was sometimes afraid that the older players or the coach would come and tell me off for losing the ball or missing a chance,” added Cong Vinh, who made his debut for Vietnam in 2004.
“I was 19 and I felt I’d made it. I used to look back ten years, to the time when I'd watch the stars of the big European teams and the top Vietnamese players on TV. It was just a dream for me at the time, but I told myself I could make it.”
The Beckhams of Vietnam
The fame now enjoyed by Cong Vinh extends far away from the pitch, thanks in part to the fact he is married to Vietnamese singer Thuy Tien, whom he met at a photo shoot in 2008. The glamorous couple attract adoring crowds wherever they go, with many now comparing them to another famous pairing: David and Victoria Beckham.
“Yes, that’s right,” said a laughing Cong Vinh. “My wife is a singer who is very well-known in Vietnam, though our life is very different to that of David and Victoria. Personally, I don’t like it when people make that comparison about us. My name is Le Cong Vinh, not David Beckham. It’s all down to the media. But it’s OK. I can’t complain.”
He added: “Everything is great. I’ve fulfilled my childhood dream in becoming a top-level footballer, and my wife and I are very happy to be so well-known. People recognise us and take photos. Sometimes, though, it can be tiring to be followed everywhere you go, to never have any free time or a private life and to be unable to do normal things, like go out for a meal, a walk or to do some shopping.”
Like the former England international, however, there can be no doubting Cong Vinh’s ability to juggle his widespread popularity and media obligations successfully with his duties on the pitch. The Becamex Binh Duong forward is at the peak of his powers, as he proved in scoring a superb brace in his side’s latest 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifying match, last Thursday’s 4-1 defeat of Chinese Taipei. Replying to the visitors’ early opener, Cong Vinh guided a precise left-footed volley into the top corner before firing home off the underside of the bar to seal his side’s win in injury time.
Laying solid foundations
Coached by Nguyen Huu Thang, Vietnam take on Iraq in their next game on Tuesday, with hopes high that they can kick on and secure a place in the third round of the Asian preliminaries for Russia 2018. With the country having recently qualified for its first FIFA tournament, the upcoming Futsal World Cup in Colombia, a wave of euphoria is sweeping the nation.
“Futsal is very different to football,” said Cong Vinh, trying to dampen that excitement. “But I have to say that the World Cup, which was once nothing but an impossible dream, is now coming true. I believe in my national team and I think it can achieve big things. Before we start dreaming of going to the World Cup, though, I think we have to consolidate our position on the continental scene and aim for qualification for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.
“If we can make it there and have a good tournament, then we can then start dreaming of bigger things. For Vietnam, though, the World Cup is still a long way away.”
Those two dreams are actually linked together, with the first two rounds of the Russia 2018 preliminaries also forming part of the qualifying competition for the 2019 Asian Cup, to be held in the United Arab Emirates. And it was at the continental finals in 2007 that Cong Vinh and his compatriots recorded Vietnam’s best-ever performance since the country’s reunification, reaching the quarter-finals, a stage that David Beckham himself never managed to advance beyond in his international career.