‘I respect all players but I’m not scared of them.’ – Nguyen Quang Hai
Vietnam’s matchwinner against Australia at the U-23 Asian Cup is determined to propel his team to become the first Southeast Asian nation to reach the quarterfinals of the tournament.
Nguyen Quang Hai, 20, scored the only goal of the game on Sunday, a result that shocked both Australian and Vietnamese fans.
Former Australian star Ned Zelic called his team’s display “disappointing”, while giving credit to Vietnam. Former striker and football manager John Kosmina said the Australian team lacked composure in front of goal, which is “a national disease”, Fox Sports reported.
Waves of support have flooded in following the result, which was the first time a Southeast Asian team had won an Asia Football Confederation (AFC) group stage game, earning Hai a lot of followers on social media and making him a “hero”.
At least that’s what his Vietnamese fans and local newspapers are calling him.
The midfielder is currently one of the five top scorers at this year’s championships with two goals. Hai also scored against South Korea last Wednesday.
Both goals were scored against major opponents, with South Korea finishing as runners-up in 2016.
“I always try to get onto the field feeling relaxed. I respect all players but I’m not scared of them,” Hai said.
However, he did admit to being “really worried” during the three added minutes against Australia. “It was too long for me and the team.”
When the match finally ended, he burst into tears, sitting by himself away from his ecstatic teammates.
“I’m very happy. But it’s hard to explain all my feelings right now,” he told reporters after the game in Jiangsu, China.
Hanoian Hai has been training since he was nine, and said he will need better focus to continue helping his team at the next game against Syria on Wednesday, their final group stage match before the quarterfinals.
If Vietnam wins, the team will be guaranteed a place in the quarterfinals, but if the match is a draw, Vietnam’s fate will depend on the result of the Australia-South Korea match.
The AFC U-23 Championship is a biennial international championship. 16 teams qualified for the finals of the tournament, and the top two teams from four groups will advance to the quarterfinals.
Vietnam made its debut in the tournament in 2016 but lost all their group stage matches against Australia, Jordan and the U.A.E.