FOX Sports Asia ran an article highly regarding Park for his bravery, claiming that the Korean coach has a remarkably modern approach to football management and deserves credit for putting his faith in youth at the AFF Suzuki Cup 2018. “At 59, Park is by no means a young coach but in just over a year in charge of the Golden Dragons, he has already shown a real affinity with youth,” the article said.
Since being unveiled as Vietnam’s new coach in September 2017, Park led his U23 and Olympic squads to the two resounding successes at the regional U23 champs and Asian Games earlier this year. Now with the national team, Park and his youthful squad are heading to the second championship title at the AFF Suzuki Cup.
With the core consisting of young players who have brought pride to the nation’s football in the last two continental tournaments, the Vietnam national squad is continuing to show their strength as a title favourite at the ongoing AFF Suzuki Cup, as they won Group A and a ticket to the semi-finals with a series of four unbeaten games (three wins, one draw), scoring eight goals and especially not conceding any.
Vietnam are the only side yet to concede a goal at the AFF Suzuki Cup 2018. (Photo: AFF Suzuki Cup 2018)
From Park’s 23-man squad, 15 players are 23 years old or younger and they have been in consistent and stable form from the beginning of the tournament. In comparison, Malaysia – the other team to progress from Group A – have just eight in the same age bracket and even defending champions Thailand have just three, plus four in the remaining semi-finalists the Philippines.
Only Laos and Timor-Leste have more U23 players and that is unsurprising considering they are both widely regarded as the two weakest teams in the competition and are building towards the future.
According to FOX Sports, for a side tipped to challenge for top honours, there is something special about Vietnam attempting to do it with such a youthful-looking side. “There are experienced campaigners in the form of captain Nguyen Van Quyet, centre-back Que Ngoc Hai and target man Nguyen Anh Duc, but the younger brigade have been equally pivotal in leading the charge and the Vietnamese are already reaping the rewards of their recent successes at U23 level.”
“Nguyen Quang Hai continues to enhance his reputation with each match, Nguyen Cong Phuong and Luong Xuan Truong are primed to finally deliver on their potential, while in defence, Tran Dinh Trong and Do Duy Manh play with a maturity beyond their years,” FOX Sports commented.
The confidence of the Vietnamese young players does not come from afar, but from their coach’s faith put on them. And impressively, the Korean coach also showed that in his hands there are still many young untried talents who are very hunger for dedication. Let's look at the last match of the group stage against Cambodia at Hang Day Stadium on Saturday. They were expected to beat the Cambodians on home soil but it was still a must-win game with a semi-final berth yet to be secured. As usual, such a high pressure game would have little room for young players, but the Korean tactician did not hesitate to bring in nearly two-thirds of the squad that were youngsters.
Park has already achieved a lot in just over a year in charge. (Photo: AFF Suzuki Cup 2018)
Replacing Anh Duc as the focal point in attack was Nguyen Tien Linh, the striker played impressively in the last V.League 1 season with 15 goals. The Becamex Binh Duong's 21-year-old striker fitted in seamlessly as he scored a decisive header to open the scoring. Meanwhile, a new factor Nguyen Phong Hong Duy was a livewire at left wing-back, marking his impressive performance with an assist for Quang Hai to score the second goal.
Although Anh Duc and Van Quyet are likely to return to the main squad in the semis, Park can do so in the knowledge that he has plenty of hungry and willing options waiting to be called on from the bench.
According to FOX Sports, this is undoubtedly a “golden generation” and Vietnamese football must look to make the most of this rare opportunity and aiming to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo or a future World Cup. “The fact that the Golden Dragons have installed a man at the helm who is not afraid to put his faith in youth bodes well for their future,” it said.
Park and his team are now four games away from winning a second Suzuki Cup crown and then will be competing against the continent’s best at January’s AFC Asian Cup 2019. The present success is also the foundation for a bright future of Vietnamese football.