Park Hang-seo continues to push Vietnam to bigger things
Park Hang-seo and the Vietnamese national team are currently in the third round of the Asian qualifiers for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, as the South Asian underdog continues efforts to land his first ticket to football’s biggest stage .
Park, former assistant coach of Korea’s national team to Guus Hiddink and coach of Korea’s Under-23 team, joined the Vietnamese squad in October 2017 after a stint at Changwon City FC. When he was appointed there was initially some skepticism about his abilities, but the 63-year-old dispelled all doubts and has since become a real celebrity in Vietnam.
Park led Vietnam to the 2018 AFC U-23 Championship final, beating stronger teams like Australia, Iraq and Qatar along the way to the 2018 Asian Games semi-finals to a victory in 2018 AFC Championship, to the quarter-finals at the 2019 AFC Asian Cup and a gold medal at the 2019 Southeast Asian Games. Almost all of these achievements were either a first for Vietnam or at least a first since the country’s unification.
Unsurprisingly, Park is somewhat of a hero in Vietnam. His magic touch is legendary and he has the papers to prove his worth – the new contract he signed at the end of 2019 is the greatest Vietnamese football ever. He received two different orders of merit in Vietnam in recognition of his contribution to the country.
In June, Park coached Vietnam to another historic milestone, as the team advanced to the third round of the Asian qualifiers at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the Southeast Asian country. closest to the biggest soccer tournament in the world. Vietnam finished second in Group G, behind the UAE in first place, but qualified as the fourth-best-ranked team second, with 17 points.
The team have lost their two third-round games so far, but Park still has a chance to turn things around.
On September 3, Vietnam lost 3-1 to Saudi Arabia at King Saud University Stadium in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. On September 7, Vietnam faced No.35 Australia at My Dinh National Stadium in Hanoi, Vietnam, and lost 1-0. Considering the difference in their ranks, a 1-0 scorecard is quite an achievement for Park’s men.
After losing their first two matches in their final qualifying rounds, Vietnam are now fifth in Group B, one place above China.
Alongside Vietnam in Group B are Australia, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Japan and China. Vietnam is ranked 92nd in the world, the lowest in the group. Japan is No. 24, Australia is No. 35, Saudi Arabia is No. 61, China is No. 71, and Oman is No. 79. The top two teams in the groups will immediately qualify for the World Cup, while the two-thirds – ranked teams will compete for the right to participate in the inter-confederation qualifiers.
Vietnamese national team players are expected to resume training on September 18. Their next showdown will be against China on October 7. Vietnam’s fourth game will be against Oman on October 12, and its fifth qualifying game will be on November 11 against Japan. The return matches will begin later this month.
JoongAng Sunday met Park, who briefly returned to Korea on July 20, at the Sports 360 Lab in Seoul Olympic Park in Songpa District, south of Seoul. Below are edited excerpts.
Q. What has changed in Vietnamese football?
A. The strength of Vietnamese football comes from the Vietnamese people’s love for sport and the government’s interest in sport as well. There are 14 professional first division clubs, 12 second division clubs and a third division, so the football league is well equipped. The physical strength and physique of the players have also improved. Since I arrived we have not lost a game against the countries of South East Asia and we are convinced that now we can face any team.
You mentioned three years ago that you made players drink milk instead of just eating rice noodles for breakfast.
It is still true. Rice noodles are a popular breakfast in Vietnam, but don’t provide enough protein. I tell players to eat eggs or drink milk to get a good amount of protein. I once invited a professor who teaches nutritional science to give a talk on the importance of nutritious food for the team and I think professional advice convinced the players.
Which country do you think should beat Vietnam in the last round of the qualifiers to qualify for the World Cup?
I never said the team’s goal was to reach the World Cup. Qualifying for the World Cup is not easy. Of course, it is not impossible. In the final qualifiers, Vietnam will no longer only face the countries of Southeast Asia, but will face the best teams in Asia. The five teams each have their strengths. I consider the final qualifiers a chance to get to know the position of Vietnamese football and also to learn what we lack as a team.
Before the second round of the playoffs, you said “If Vietnam reaches the third round of the playoffs, my job is done.”
It’s like my agent Lee Dong-jun said, I’m on contract until next January. I just wanted to say that my goal as the head coach of the national team is to reach the third round of qualifying, nothing else. I intend to fulfill my contract.
You mentioned something about wanting to build a youth football school in Vietnam when you retire.
Vietnam does not have a good youth football system. There are no private football institutions like Korea and it’s not as if all professional clubs can accommodate young athletes. However, in the north of Hanoi there is a large football training center called PVF. Because Vietnam is a geographically long country, I think it would be good to create a base each in central and southern Vietnam. But it’s not easy to build football training centers as a foreigner without local support. Maybe it could be possible with the help of Vietnamese companies.
What does “Vietnam” mean to you?
A place that I love. The Vietnamese people sent me so much support even when the team was not playing their best. I have also met some great athletes and staff here. Vietnam is a country that I have come to love, a country that I don’t think I can forget and where I have reached the zenith of my life.
BY YUN SO-HYANG [[email protected]]