HÀ NỘI — Eight years ago, Chương Thị Kiều was 18 and her teammate Nguyễn Thị Tuyết Dung was 20. They were both part of the Việt Nam squad which were on the verge of qualifying for the 2015 World Cup.
Dung scored a goal but their dream collapsed after a 2-1 loss to Thailand in a playoff match at Mỹ Đình Stadium.
On Sunday, against Chinese Taipei in the playoffs, Dung connected a corner with Kiều, and the ethnic Khmer defender nodded the ball home to open the scoring.
Later, a shot by Nguyễn Thị Bích Thùy put Việt Nam 2-1 ahead, securing them a spot at the 2023 World Cup, hosted by Australia and New Zealand next summer.
Việt Nam are the sixth representative from Asia at the biggest footballing event in the world.
However, to make their dream true, the Golden Star Warriors had to overcome challenges and adversity.
Coach Mai Đức Chung and his team advanced to the AFC Women’s Asian Cup, a World Cup qualifier, as the winner of Group B after thrashing the Maldives 16-0 and Tajikistan 7-0.
A bigger challenge awaited them as they were drawn in the same group as world powerhouses Japan and South Korea, along with archrival Myanmar.
Coach Chung and his captain Cù Thị Huỳnh Như could not hide their disappointment; Chung shook his head and frowned while Như posted a status, writing: “Can’t say anything!”.
However, they put aside their disappointment and set about the task ahead.
First, they flew to Spain for an intensive training camp. The players’ physique, stamina and tactics improved and the team performed well in friendlies against local clubs.
However, COVID-19 threw a spanner in the works towards the end of their stay in Spain.
At first, only six players could fly to India for the tournament. The rest were left in Spain due to testing positive, complicating arrangements for the tournament.
Chung was worried that he would not have enough players fit for the first match.
Many plans were discussed, including bolstering the squad with players that weren’t initially involved, to make sure that Việt Nam could field at least 13 players come match day to avoid forfeiting the result.
Fortunately, just one day prior to their first match, more players were cleared to travel. The squad only had one day to train together before facing South Korea.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, losing 3-0 to both South Korea and Japan was considered an acceptable result. Việt Nam came from behind to draw Myanmar 2-2, to secure their target of third place and qualification.
In the quarter-finals, Việt Nam scored first but lost 3-1 to China, who went on to take the championship title. Việt Nam were out of the tournament but joined the playoffs with Thailand and Chinese Taipei to grab an automatic slot to World Cup.
Beating them 2-0 and 2-1, respectively, put Chung and his players on cloud nine.
Strong iron mind
“My players overcome a shortage of equipment in training and met many difficulties in daily life to maintain their football passion. We have been familiar with challenges, otherwise, we would have given up at the beginning,” said Chung, highlighting the determination and iron spirit of his players.
“I’m so proud of my players. They have done well for themselves. They have worked so hard, especially today to earn the victory. We completed our promise to our supporters. It’s just an amazing result. It could have been even better, if it wasn’t for COVID-19.
“However, it’s a good end to our campaign here. This achievement would not have been possible without the dedication and motivation of all the staff and players. We had to take it one step at a time. We started the campaign slow, but the last two matches have been good for us.
“Now, we’re looking forward to preparing for the World Cup. My players and I are extremely happy.”
Captain Như told the media that when they have a full squad, the team performs the best.
“It is an incredible feeling. It was a great effort from the whole team. We do not give up for any reason till the final whistle blew,” said Như.
“The World Cup ticket is not only my personal pride but the whole team and nation. We have not enjoyed a World Cup before but now we made it.
“I want to say ‘thank you’ to my coaches, teammates and especially my supporters who watched and encouraged us in every competition,” said Như.
Việt Nam’s success was congratulated internationally.
On their website, the AFC wrote: “Việt Nam’s zealous momentum through the match seal their win in the final playoff and earn their automatic qualification to the FIFA World Cup.”
Meanwhile, FIFA made a headline ‘World Cup first for jubilant Việt Nam’ for their article in which it wrote: “Việt Nam have qualified for their first FIFA Women’s World Cup after becoming the fifth and final team to book their ticket to Australia & New Zealand 2023 through the AFC Women’s Asian Cup. Victories over Thailand and Chinese Taipei secured play-off success”.
SEA Games next
After the team’s win, Chung and his team received complimentary words from President Nguyễn Xuân Phúc and Prime Minister Phạm Minh Chính.
President Phúc appreciated their World Cup berth and said the team deserved to have such achievements, which resulted from their strong effort and Vietnamese spirit.
Meanwhile, PM Chính expressed his happiness and hoped to meet the whole team after they are back in Việt Nam on February 10.
PM Chính would present a bonus of VNĐ4 billion (US$177,000) from a socialisation fund to the team, who have received up to VNĐ10 billion ($443,000) to date.
As planned, players will gather together next March to prepare to defend their title at the 31st SEA Games in May in Hà Nội.
Women’s football will begin on May 11 and close on May 21 in Quảng Ninh Province.
Việt Nam, the Southeast Asian champion, have won nine SEA Games titles in 2001, 2003, 2005, 2009, 2017 and 2019. VNS