“Vietnam Champion, Vietnam Champion”

Vietnam were crowned Southeast Asian football champions for the first time on Sunday night in Ha Noi after they defeated three-time champions Thailand 3-2 on aggregate.

Vietnam’s title for the very first time in history of this competition did not come until the final seconds. In the injury seconds, No.1 striker Le Cong Vinh’s header equalized the score at 1-1, sending the entire country into a frenzy overnight. “Vietnam champion, Vietnam champion, Vietnam champion”, fans across the country shouted in the streets during the night.

Vietnamese players hail coach Henrique Calisto after the match (Photo: SGGP)

Vietnam, making only their second final appearance in the regional championship, got a freekick in the added time after Suree Sukha brought down Cong Vinh on the left edge of the box. Substitute midfielder Nguyen Minh Phuong set up for Vinh’s header that looped over goalkeeper Kosin to spark wild celebrations from the 40,000 people crowd at My Dinh National Stadium.

The trophy stayed in the country after the ASEAN Football Federation had brought it here from Bangkok, where Vietnam defeated the hosts 2-1 on Christmas Eve in the first leg.

Captain Phan Van Tai Em (L) and keeper Duong Hong Son hold up the trophy (Photo: SGGP)

The Vietnamese held the advantage after this away stunning victory, but Thai striker Teerasil Dangda drew the sides level overall with a 21st-minute header.

The Thais did not play aggressively as they did in Bangkok and balance was seen during the first half in Ha Noi, not taking Dangda’s goal into consideration. However, both sides tried to push forward in search of goals.

In a response in the 32nd minute, Cong Vinh received the ball on the left flank and cut in before curling an effort just wide of the far post.

Vietnam’s best chance of the half arrived in stoppage time when skipper Phan Van Tai Em scooped the ball into the box for Huynh Quang Thanh, who escaped his marked but fired wide from six meters out.

After the break the hosts began to gain better control but the Thais, under England international Peter Reid, former coach at Manchester City and Sunderland, went close and played with high concentration.

Both sides had their chances but nothing came out of them. With time running out, Thailand brought in substitute Ronnachai Rangsiyo for Teeratep Winothai, who almost doubled the score in the 59th minute. Le Tan Tai went close for Vietnam in the 66th minute with a shot from the left edge of box that was deflected narrowly wide of the far post and, a minute later, Cong Vinh snuck between two defenders to reach a deep cross from the left but put his volley just wide.

The Vietnamese appeared to tire during the last minutes and the two teams looked set to battle for another 30 minutes because the aggregate score until that time was 2-2. But during the injury time, Suree Sukha brought down Cong Vinh on the left edge of the box. Minh Phuong’s free kick and Vinh’s sensational header drove the ball into the far corner of the net, beyond keeper Kosin’s reach. That was the last action of the match, also a point of time making a historic turn in Vietnamese football. 

“I'm feeling overjoyed at the moment. And we will have a private celebration with the players and with those who are close to us,” Vietnam coach Henrique Calisto said at the post-match press conference.

Thailand coach Reid sound shell-shocked by the defeat. Reid, who said at the pre-match press conference that his team came to Ha Noi to take the trophy, said at the post-match press conference, “It was a difficult game all the way until the last minute.”

Scoring striker Vinh said after the match, “It’s my life’s goal. I will never forget it because this goal brought about the championship.”

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung (R) presents the gold medal to Portuguese-born coach Calisto (Photo: SGGP)

The whole Vietnam team hailed their Portuguese-born coach Calisto as a hero. Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung presented the gold medals to the players and the coach, giving him a big hug. The PM then handed out the AFF Suzuki Cup trophy to captain Phan Van Tai Em.

The regional tournament started in 1996, taking place every two years. In their first final appearance in 1998, Vietnam lost 0-1 to Singapore in Ha Noi. In addition, the Vietnamese have been beaten in the Southeast Asian Games football final by the Thais four times since 1995.

Back to 1959, the southern Vietnam team beat Thailand 3-1 in Bangkok in the final of the first SEAP Games (the name of the Southeast Asian Games at that time). Forty-nine years have passed since a Vietnam team won a regional title.

Fans celebrate Vietnam’s championship on Sunday night in Ho Chi Minh City (Photo: SGGP)

Both Vietnam and Thailand now have to turn to the Asian Cup qualifiers. Given the first ASEAN trophy, Vietnamese fans want coach Calisto to stay to continue his job with the national team, who went through to the quarterfinals of the 2007 Asian Cup.

Calisto has worked as a football coach in Vietnam for eight years. He made his first appearance as national coach in 2002 and his team, with many young and inexperienced players, won the bronze medal in that year’s ASEAN championship, then called Tiger Cup.

2008 AFF Suzuki Cup honor table

Champions: Vietnam
Runners-Up: Thailand
Third-placed: Indonesia, Singapore

Fairplay Award: Thailand

Top Goal Scorer: Teerasil Dangda (Thailand, 4 goals)
Most Valuable Player: Duong Hong Son (Vietnamese goalkeeper)

By Tuong Thuy

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