The national football team and millions Vietnamese fans are very hopeful for ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Championship – Suzuki Cup 2018, especially after the team sparked outpourings of joy in the whole country by entering semi-final of the Asian Games 2018 in September and the final of the AFC U23 Championship at the start of the year.

The team was cheered on by millions of people on the streets as well as many parts of the ASEAN region. I still vividly remember the celebration nights in Hanoi, which was truly a historic moment of Vietnamese football.

Thousands of fans flocked to the sea of red in the streets. Everyone, from youngsters, little kids to the senior citizens, from the blue collars to the environment workers or the traffic officers, donned themselves with the national flag, which came in various sizes.

They wore red and yellow shirts, they carried flags aloft, they had it on their face, stuck it to their fancy cars and motorbike nearby the large posters of the football team. They use all kinds of things available at their home to celebrate – plastic horns, used inox tray, used boxes, loudspeakers and shouting ‘Viet Nam Vo Dich’ – literally translated as ‘Vietnam The Champion’. It was so haunting, since then, every single time I heard the sound of that kind of plastic horn, I would immediately be reminded of that fantastic yet emotional time.

Every single person I met would talk excitedly about football, strangers would join together to cheer and celebrate. Isn’t it the best example to show how football can really bring people and the whole country together? For two times, the team may fail to win the title but instead, they win an even prouder prize, it’s the heart of millions of Vietnamese supporters.

“Vietnam has erased any semblance of the complex that ASEAN teams have had when taking on so-called bigger and better nations on the pitch,” Fox Sports Asia wrote about the performance of the team at AFC Championship.

“Vietnam, and to a lesser extent Malaysia, has demonstrated that ASEAN players are not inferior to those from the West and East,” it wrote.

So what really drives the team to gain such achievements unprecedented for Vietnamese football?

During an English talk show on the national television programme, Captain Luong Xuan Truong, said that solidarity, fighting spirit and self-confidence are among factors that contributed to the success of U23 Vietnam. “The solidarity is the most important thing because when everyone tries to realise the success of the team, aim for only one target, convince everyone that we are one team, that makes the team very strong,” said Truong, who is known with his calming influence sitting deep in midfield. “When we play in the pitch, when we are tired, we think about Vietnamese supporters, think about our country and we get more energy,” he added.

Goalkeeper Bui Tien Dung, told the national English language daily Vietnam News: “We are built as a solid team and we always play with that spirit. The success that we have is thanks to the solidarity of the whole team.”

It was not hard to notice that every time when a team player scored a goal, they would kiss the national flag in their chest. The image of Van Thanh and Xuan Truong lowered them down to clear the snow for their mate Quang Hai to perform the penalty is also one of the very examples demonstrating the solidarity of the team.

The Vietnamese fans would also never forget the emotional moment at the final of AFC Championship in the stadium under cruelly arctic condition. At the end of the match, midfielder Duy Manh was seen to be in tears, staying at the pitch for a little while to pitch the national flag and kneel down in front of it.

Vietnamese online newspaper zing, said the team of ‘incredibles’ along with the excellent head coach Park Hang-seo is also an important factor to the success of the team.

The Vietnamese team is boasting a ‘golden generation’, with the likes of midfielders Nguyen Quang Hai and Luong Xuan Truong, striker Nguyen Cong Phuong and goalkeeper Bui Tien Dung who are all among ‘the brightest prospects in Southeast Asia, as well as the entire continent’.

Coach Park is affectionately known as ‘Sleeping One’ for his sitting position on the bench during matches. Taking charge of the Vietnamese squad in early October last year after the team failed to make the final of the Southeast Asian Games, he has brought great changes to the team.

“He is an endless source of inspiration for the young people. He is really an experienced mastermind,” said his assistant Le Huy Khoa. He helped to end the lack of confidence his players had when facing big rivals. His decisions of using players and changing tactics and formation against rivals have been also proved to work very well.

Midfielder Quang Hai showed an outstanding mentality and belief to come up with some massive goals when the games were really on the line with his smart tackles in different situations. He has been well known for his ‘dynamic, flexible and decisive thinking’.

Hai scored five goals at AFC U23 Championship to help Vietnam earn a silver medal for the first time in history. His goal against Uzbekistan in the final of the tournament was voted ‘the best goal of the tournament by fans on the AFC website. Hai has been considered as one of ‘Southeast Asian’s brightest prospects’.

“The Hanoi star is likely to revert to his natural position at the Suzuki Cup, where he could prove to be a real nightmare for any full-back that has the unenviable task of trying to stop him,” wrote Fox Sports Asia.

Goalkeeper Bùi Tiến Dũng is also a hero of the team as his penalty saves helped Vietnam continue their march to the final of the AFC U23 Championship and quarter final of ASIAD 2018. With excellent ability of catching the ball in the tournaments, he ranked third in the poll of top goalkeepers of the Southeast Asian region carried out by Fox Sports Asia.

Beside human resources, the long term investments in Vietnamese football is also a crucial element for the progress of the team with more support given to the national squad, foreign coaches hired and young football training and talent scouting intensified.

It is said that Vietnam is having a supremely talented generation of football stars and it is no doubt there will be plenty more nights for Vietnamese fans to come out in the street and celebrate.