Peter Cowan & Bảo Ngọc
HÀ NỘI – Việt Nam rang in the new lunar year in style on Tuesday night, with a convincing 3-1 win over China in Hà Nội.
The World Cup qualifying match was a dead rubber with both sides out of the running for a spot in Qatar later this year, but the passion on display both on and off the pitch showed there was still plenty of regional pride to play for on the first day of the Year of the Tiger.
The win gave Việt Nam their first points in the third round of World Cup qualification after losing seven on the trot and will have sent the players into their Tết break with big smiles on their faces.
Coach Park Hang-seo had to do without former captain Quế Ngọc Hải who was ruled out due to COVID, but striker Nguyễn Tiến Linh returned after missing the 4-0 defeat to Australia last week for the same reason.
Việt Nam flew out of the blocks as the sparse Mỹ Đình crowd of just 6,099 on a bitterly cold night, roared them on, and they were soon celebrating the opening goal.
Just nine minutes in the home side conjured a cross from the left-hand side which found the head of full-back Hồ Tấn Tài, who made no mistake.
Just six minutes later the lead was doubled as a well-worked free-kick routine allowed Phạm Tuấn Hải to square the ball for Linh, who made no mistake inside the six-yard box.
The visitors struggled to create decent chances in the first half, bar some tame shots which goalkeeper Trần Nguyên Mạnh saved easily.
In the second half, Việt Nam sat back and soaked up the pressure from China comfortably, who were unable to create many chances of note.
Even China’s star striker Wu Lei was unable to impact proceedings, unlike in the reverse fixture last year when his two goals secured a 3-2 win for China.
Việt Nam made the game safe in the 76th minute when Nguyễn Hoàng Đức picked out Phan Văn Đức in space. The substitute still had a lot to do but was able to conjure a superb long-range shot that flew in off the post, sending the crowd, and watching Vietnamese Prime Minister Phạm Minh Chính, into raptures.
China scored a consolation goal with the last kick of the match as Xu Xin volleyed home, but the celebrations at the final whistle moments later ensured it would be but a footnote on a historic night for Việt Nam.
After the game, a delighted PM Chính joined the players on the pitch to celebrate the win.
He said: “Many thanks to the coach and the players for giving a gift to the fans and people of Việt Nam in the New Year.
“Also many thanks to the team staff and everyone who fought hard for the identity of Việt Nam.
“Today is the first day of the New Year and hopefully this year we will win many victories.”
Midfielder and captain Đỗ Hùng Dũng added: “I feel very happy. On this day, the team really played hard.
“Myself and the team have been waiting for this victory for a long time.
“Many thanks to the fans who came to watch the game and hope that this will be a special Tết gift for everyone as I promised before the match.” VNS