Vietnam claimed the silver medal of the AFC U23 Championship after losing 2-1 to Uzbekistan in the last minute of extra time in the final on Saturday in China.
Vietnamese players celebrate their goal in the final match. Photo: saostar.vn
Substitute Andrey Sidorov, who entered the fray just five minutes before the end, netted the winning goal from Dostonbek Khamdamov’s left wing corner kick with his first touch of the game, crowning Uzbekistan as champions of the third edition of the tournament.
Nguyen Quang Hai scores a goal for Vietnam in the China’s AFC U23 Championship. Photo: laodong.com
The goal was scored from just five metres out, with Vietnamese goalkeeper Bui Tien Dung’s sight obstructed by his teammates.
Normal time finished with a score of 1-1, with Uzbekistan dominating possession.
Uzbekistan who controlled the early proceedings under the snowy weather that struck the city of Chengzhou two days ahead of the match. The snow was so heavy that many people feared the medal match would be delayed.
Midfielder Phan Van Duc of Vietnam runs a ball away from Uzbekistan players during their AFC U23 Championship in China on Saturday. Photo: congly.vn
Uzbekistan took the lead on eight minutes when a poorly marked Rustamjon Ashurmatov headed home Khamdamov’s outswinging corner at the Changzhou Olympic Sports Centre.
The Uzbeks, who swept away defending champions Japan and runners-up South Korea on their way to the final, continued to keep up the pressure afterwards.
Captain Luong Xuan Truong of Vietnam (left) vies for a ball against Uzbek Javokhir Sidikov during the final match. Photo: tinthethao.com.vn
Javokhir Sidikov and Khamdamov tested goalie Dung with threatening efforts near the box but Dung denied them with smart saves.
Despite struggling to resist Uzbekistan’s attacks, Vietnam also had chance to answer as Pham Xuan Manh’s cross narrowly eluded the onrushing Phan Van Duc and Nguyen Quang Hai.
Vietnamese supporters encourage their players in China. Their great cheering impressed international friends during their whole tournament. Photo: saostar.vn
Heavy snow strongly affected the quality of the match. It not only slowed the speed of the players but also prevented them from making accurate passes.
At about the 25 minute mark, Oman referee Ahmed Abu Bakar Al-Kaf, who was assigned to officiate the final some hours before the final, decided to pause the game for several minutes so the organisers could sweep away snow from the field.
Despite failure in the final of the AFC U23 Championship, the team are heroes of Vietnam. Photo: saostar.vn
Hai levelled the score for Vietnam in the 40th minute of the match.
Striker Nguyen Cong Phuong was brought down on the edge of the area, and from the resulting free-kick Hai’s curling effort went over the Uzbeks’ wall towards the top corner of goalkeeper Botirali Ergashev’s net.
Ergashev stretched but failed to stop the goal.
It was Hai’s fifth goal in this tournament so far, behind only Almoez Ali of Qatar who finished as top scorer with six. All of Hai’s goals were crucial in keeping Vietnam in the tournament.
During the half-time break, organisers tried to clean the field, clearing snow. The work took about nearly an hour, leaving more time for players to rest.
Apart from silver medal, Vietnamese players also receive the AFC fair play award. Photo: vietnamnet.vn
Players of both side had more time to recover but they also had to warm up again to start the second half.
Uzbekistan came out of the traps flying, this time Khamdamov threatened keeper Dung with a 48th minute long-range drive.
Later, Dung reacted well to deny Sidikov from close range, before Uzbekistan captain Zabikhillo Urinboev fizzed a shot wide of the left-hand upright on 70 minutes.
In the last second of normal time, Urinboev missed a glorious chance to win the match, but his effort from seve metres out flew over the bar after Dung had parried Akramjon Komilov’s cross into his path.
“It is a regrettable result. We played well and we could play much better than this match,” said midfielder Hai after the final whistle.
Thousands of people wave flags on the street to cheer the historic result of the U23 squad at the continental compeition. Photo: saostar.vn
“Our great supporters were a strong force to encourage us in match and the whole tournament, which a great memory for us. The team and I promise to try harder in the coming competitions,” said a visibly moved Hai, with tears sparkling in his eyes.
Coach Park Hang-seo apologised for not presenting the Vietnamese fans with the championship trophy.
However, he said he was proud that his players did all they could, even going beyond their capabilities. He said he was pleased with how they performed in harsh weather conditions for the first time in their career. It meant that they could not bring into play their strengths, and had to change tactics for the new situation, he said.
Despite being unsuccessful in the final the U23s, who also received the tournament’s fair play award, continued to receive bonuses from businesses, with perhaps the best tickets for the whole team to watch a 2018 World Cup match in Russia.
Vietnamese supporters run to streets to celebrate the U23’s silver medal at the Asian championship. Photo: saostar.vn
“They are our real heroes. Vietnam has never reached a final in a continental competition before,” said football expert Nguyen Sy Hien in television commentary.
“The young players maintained a great spirit during the whole tournament as well as in the final under such tough weather. Their technique was quite good and they strictly followed their coaches’ tactics which sometimes befuddled their rivals confused. They are heroes in Vietnamese people’s hearts,” said Hien.