Vietnam has been gripped with football (round ball version) fever for the last month. Not the World Cup, not the Asia Cup, not the full national team; no, the Under 23 Asia Football Cup, being played in China. As Vietnam progressed through the group stages, the quarter and semi-finals, beating Australia on the way, the country erupted in unison every time a goal was scored. After each victory, thousands of flag waving motorcyclists would process around the city, sounding their horns and cheering. It was like this all over the country.
Yesterday afternoon (Saturday 27/1/18), Vietnam, against all expectations, found itself in the AFC U-23 final, playing Uzbekistan in Changzhou. The whole country went on hold for the match. Đà Nẵng cafes and bars filled up with excited supporters. It seemed like everybody was dressed in red and yellow, and waving the national flag.
As I was walking past the Red Window bar near my place, they invited me into watch on their large screen. The bar was suitably decked out for the occasion:
The match was nearly postponed because of a blizzard. From what I saw on the T.V. the match should have been postponed. The conditions were horrendous. I’m pretty sure most, if not all of the Vietnam team would never have seen snow before, let alone played in several inches of it, in the middle of a blizzard. They were at a distinct disadvantage to the Uzbekistan team, who would be familiar with the freezing weather. Half-time was extended to about 30 minutes whilst a bevy of workmen cleared the snow that accumulated in the first half. Here they are:
Uzbekistan took the lead in the first half. They looked bigger, stronger and better able to cope with the treacherous pitch. But Vietnam kept coming at them, and scored from a beautifully curled free-kick. My Vietnamese friend told me that the commentator described the trajectory of the free-kick as like a rainbow in the snow. The bar erupted:
It stayed 1-1 until full-time and then almost to the end of extra time. It looked destined to go to a penalty shoot-out, at which Vietnam had proven themselves to be experts. But tragically, with almost the last kick of extra-time, Uzbekistan scored again. It was way too late for Vietnam to pull another goal back, and the match ended 2-1 to Uzbekistan.
What was then noticeable was the good-natured way in which defeat was accepted, and the achievement of just reaching the final was appreciated. The country was united behind their national team, regardless of victory or defeat. There wasn’t the outburst of nastiness and anger and recriminations that you might see from say losing British or Australian supporters. There were still significant motorbike flag waving processions around town, but I’m sure the place would have been much wilder had Vietnam won.
Here’s the “Rainbow in the Snow”:
Copyright Mike Hopkins 2018