Nguyễn Văn Toản unpacked his items, changed his clothes and quickly picked up his shoes to join his teammates in the hotel lobby.
Toản and the rest of the U23 team are in Dubai to train ahead of the Asian U23 Championship, which begins in Uzbekistan next month.
They are seeking their first continental title after winning the Southeast Asian Games, where Toản kept a clean sheet throughout the entire tournament.
“I am really happy to win this valuable gold medal on home ground,” Toản said. “It is my second SEA Games gold.
“Not only me but also all teammates have had good preparation for this Games. We focused totally and competed well in all matches. This success was due to the strong effort of the coaching board and players, plus a little luck.
“Thank you, thank you the supporters who came along and encouraged us throughout the tournament.”
SEA Games record
At the 30th SEA Games in 2019 in the Philippines, Toản, 20, was one of the youngest members of the team.
Winning the title was an honour and pride that pushed the shot-stopper strongly ahead, contributing both to Hải Phòng FC and the national teams.
The win was also stimulating for Toản ahead of the 31st Games where he was one of the oldest and took responsibility for guiding his younger teammates, especially the defenders.
Their tight cooperation during the SEA Games 31 led to great results. Việt Nam’s net was safe in all six matches from the group round to final, equivalent to 570 minutes (five matches in 90 minutes and one semis in 120 minutes).
Adding this to his clean sheets in the semis and final at the SEA Games 30, he hasn’t conceded a goal in 750 minutes of SEA Games football — a new record for the tournament.
Toản, returning to play after a shoulder injury, broke the old record set by Nguyễn Minh Quang, who didn’t concede for 470 minutes in the 20th SEA Games in Brunei in 1999.
“I am surprised hearing about the record. I don’t know I had set a record,” Toản told reporters.
“It is clear that it is an achievement for the whole team. My defenders worked extremely well so I was not very busy,” he said.
Toản said it took a little bit of time for him to get into the game after being off the field for so long. However, he quickly found his rhythm and made some impressive saves.
Despite making history, Toản’s favourite moment was Nghiêm Mạnh Dũng’s goal.
“It was Dũng’s incredible header that scored the championship goal. We beat arch-rival Thailand to top the SEA Games,” Hải Phòng City-born Toản said.
“His winner sent the Mỹ Đình Stadium into a frenzy. The stadium literally exploded with thousands of people, including me, jumping up for joy and happiness.”
A big challenger
At the 2019 Games, Bùi Tiến Dũng was the first-choice goalkeeper, where the team won a historic Asian Championship silver in 2018. But after the first three matches, Toản was picked for the starting squad and has been kept his place until now, except for a six-month injury in October 2021.
The stable performance of the 23-year-old has made it hard for South Korean manager Park Hang-seo unable to drop him from the national squad, including the recent 2022 World Cup qualification campaign.
There is little doubt that he would be part of Park’s squad for a friendly against Afghanistan on June 1, if it was not for the U23 side.
The 1.86m goalie has been a constant threat to the No 1 keeper Đặng Văn Lâm’s place in front of goalmouth.
“It is a matter of the future. I am now training with the U23 for the Asian Championship. My target is to help Việt Nam to do the best in every match,” said Toản.
Toản and his teammates will have a friendly match against the UAE on May 28, a final test before their Asian tournament.
They will depart for the Uzbek competition a day later.
Their tournament will begin on June 4 facing South Korea in Group C. VNS