Vietnam deployed a young squad to the regional tournament, with just three players aged 22 and the remaining aged between 17-20. Despite that fact, coach Hoang Anh Tuan still set a goal of progressing into the final match.
Arriving in Thailand on August 24, Vietnam had a rehearsal match against the Bahrain team in Bangkok the following day. The two teams played out a 1-1 draw and Vietnam lost 3-5 in the penalty shootout.
The reigning champions delivered a flying start to their 2023 AFF U23 Championship campaign by thrashing Laos 4-1 at Rayong Provincial Stadium.
However, Vietnam faced difficulties in their last Group C game as they confronted a challenging Philippine side. Hoang Anh Tuan boldly tested the players with eight changes made to their starting lineup.
Vietnam entered the match with strong confidence and dominated throughout the majority of the game. Yet, the title holders wasted opportunities as they made many inaccurate passes and found it difficult to approach the Philippine goal area.
A bright spot of the Vietnamese side in that match was the good combination that led to their opening goal. Despite several things to improve, Vietnam achieved a dual goal which was to keep fit for the semifinal clash and offer chances for young players to show off their abilities.
The narrow 1-0 victory against the Philippines meant Vietnam won Group C and made it through to the last-four match against Group B winners, Malaysia.
Malaysia were highly appreciated after defeating Indonesia in the group stage. Meanwhile, Vietnam were not so impressive in their triumphs over Laos and the Philippines. However, Hoang Anh Tuan’s side stunned fans by comfortably beating the Malaysians 4-1, with three goals scored in the first 45 minutes, thereby qualifying for the the title decider.
The final match started with Indonesia’s young starlets on the front foot. Vietnam had to deal with enormous pressure and were forced to play defensively.
In the 26th minute, Rifky Setiawan's free kick from 20 metres could have opened the scoring for Shin Tae-yong's men, had it not been for goalkeeper Quan Van Chuan's acrobatics.
Five minutes later, Vietnam replied with a great opportunity for Nguyen Minh Quang on the counter. Quang was through on goal, but his shot hit the outside of the post. As he went for the rebound, Quang was brought down by Alfeandra Dewangga inside the box and the referee pointed to the spot.
Nguyen Quoc Viet, a scorer in the semifinal win over Malaysia, stepped up, but his penalty was saved by Ernando.
After Viet’s miss, Indonesia had even more mental advantages on their side, and took full control of the game. This momentum carried on into the second half, as Shin Tae-yong’s men created several moret opportunities, the most dangerous of which came in the 77th minute, with Sananta Ramadhan's free kick rattlling not only the crossbar, but the hearts of Vietnamese fans everywhere.
The game was also notably plagued with vicious fouls and tackles from both sides, but Vietnam, having learned their lessons in the group stage match against the Philippines, kept their cool and stayed strong in defence for the rest of the match.
In extra time, as fatigue kicked in, both teams played more carefully and the match ended goalless after 120 minutes.
Five players from both sides confidently took their spot kicks, until keeper Ernando stepped up to take the sixth penalty.
Having saved a penalty earlier in the first half, Ernando could have been the hero for Indonesia, but fate chose Van Chuan, as the Hanoi FC goalkeeper pushed away Ernando's shot, in an ironically similar fashion to Ernando's earlier save against Quoc Viet.
18-year-old Thai Ba Dat, one of Vietam’s rising stars, then successfully converted the decisive kick to give Vietnam victory and the title.
The win marked Vietnam’s successful title defence, after success at the 2022 AFF U23 Championship in Cambodia.
Vietnam’s Quan Van Chuan wins the “Best Goalkeeper” award. (Photo: VFF)
Vietnam’s joy was even multipled as Quan Van Chuan was voted the best goalkeeper of the tournament and midfielder Dinh Xuan Tien was named the top scorer, alongside Malaysia’s Aliff Akmal Rizal, with three goals.
Vietnam’s journey at the AFF U23 Championship wrapped up with the happiness of coach Hoang Anh Tuan. As for the young Vietnamese players, this will surely be a memorable milestone in their football career.