‘No one knew or cared about who I was before, but now, wherever I go, people recognize me.’
Vietnam’s national football team set the country on fire at the Asian Football Confederation U23 Championship in January by defying all the odds, and in doing so catapulted goalkeeper Bui Tien Dung to stardom.
Vietnam became the first Southeast Asian team to make it to the quarterfinals, and then shocked everyone by making it to the final.
Despite losing to Uzbekistan in the last minute of extra time in the final, Vietnam’s players and Dung in particular won over pundits and fans for their astonishing perfomances, with many people saying it was the best they had ever seen a Vietnamese team play.
And Dung was one of the main reasons for Vietnam’s progression to the latter stages of the tournament.
Dung stood firm in penalty shootouts in the quarterfinal against Iraq and then the semifinal against Qatar, and he produced some brilliant displays during normal time to get his team that far.
For the 20-year-old and his team, things have changed since they returned from the AFC U23 Cup.
In a recent interview with VnExpress, Dung shared how his life has changed since all that drama.
How has your life changed since the U23 Asian Cup?
No one knew or cared about who I was before, but now, wherever I go, people recognize me. Sometimes people even follow me to have a chat when I go out for breakfast. I’m happy but it feels a bit awkward. That sudden change has surprised me, but I always tell myself to keep my feet on the ground and stay focused, because after all, this is just the beginning. I’m still a young player, not a star or a monument; what I have achieved so far is still very little.
What have you done to try and keep your life in balance?
I write in a diary to keep a clear head. I write every day and always end with the sentence: “Don’t be self-satisfied.” I know there is still a long road ahead and many targets to achieve. At the U23 Asian Cup, I could have done better in some situations but I failed because I wasn’t able to communicate with my team or made the wrong decisions. I know my weaknesses and if I want a bright future I need to train hard to fix them.
You’ve been hailed as a hero, but back at Thanh Hoa Club you’re still third choice behind two senior goalkeepers. How do you feel about that?
Competition for a position on the field is normal in football. Coach Mihail Marian Cucchiaroni has had a successful career, and that explains why his decisions are professional and fair. The skills we show will decide if we play or not; not our ages or achievements. We all have a chance, and that’s why we all need to try our best.
What are your goals for 2018?
To try my hardest in training and improve so I can play as many games for my club as possible. As for the national team, Vietnam will play at the Asian Games (Asiad) and ASEAN Football Championship this year, so I really want to be part of the national team and get Vietnamese football fans excited again.