Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Joy in Hanoi

Joy in Hanoi

Joy in Hanoi

A 4-1 loss has never been so satisfying.

Co-host Vietnam squeaked into the quarterfinals of the Asian Cup on Monday as Group B runners-up, despite receiving a footballing lesson from defending champions Japan at My Dinh Stadium.

Vietnam booked their ticket to the knockout round in place of Qatar, who crashed out of the competition with a 2-1 loss to the United Arab Emirates in Ho Chi Minh.

News of that loss triggered wild celebrations across Hanoi that lasted well into the night. The humbling loss to Japan was quickly forgotten, as was the match-fixing scandal that sent seven of the team’s players to jail only three months before the tournament. Monday night was all about celebrating the present; there was no need to dwell on the past.

The team most pundits predicted would lose three straight had reached the second round of a competition they hadn’t appeared in since 1960, and nobody could dampen their spirits.

“I think it’s a sensation,” gushed Vietnam coach Alfred Riedl, who earlier called the match against Japan the biggest in the nation’s history. “It is very good for Vietnamese football, a good education for us. Very few people expected us to go through.”

Flag-waving fans on motorbikes tore through the capital honking their horns and chanting “Vietnam! Vietnam!” for hours after the match.

One of them, Ngo Ngoc Khanh, was overcome with joy. “This is the best thing to happen to Vietnam in years,” said Khanh, adding that he was unfazed by the prospect of Vietnam having to play its remaining games away from home. “I don’t care about that. It would be nice to see them play in Vietnam, but the important thing is that we got to the quarterfinals. Vietnam is number one!”
Riedl also said he wasn’t bothered with having to play play Group A winners Iraq in Bangkok.

“It’s not where we play that’s important but how we play when we get there against a strong opponent,” Riedl said. “I don’t see any problems with our fitness or anything else just because we’re in a different country. We may surprise again. You never know.”
Japan, meanwhile, will stay in Hanoi for their Final Eight match against Australia on Saturday after topping Group B with two wins and a draw.

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