Tran Van Vu never dreamed of becoming a professional athlete, but a turning point in his life led him to futsal and changed his plans forever.
Tran Van Vu will captain Vietnam at his and the country's second Futsal World Cup this September in Lithuania. Photo courtesy of VFF
The 31-year-old is heading to his second FIFA Futsal World Cup in Lithuania in September and is hoping for a strong result despite its many challenges.
Five years ago in Colombia before Vu was captain, Vietnam sent shock waves through the tournament when they, unfavoured as they were, made it through to the knockout stages. They beat Guatemala 4-2 in the opener, a result saw them go through as one of the best third-placed sides despite losing to Paraguay and Italy.
Their journey ended at the round of 16, though they were awarded the Fair Play Award.
This year, Vu is the captain and Vietnam hope to at least repeat what they did last time though the pandemic has affected preparations.
Life changed by futsal
Born in Binh Phuoc province, Vu moved to Ho Chi Minh city at the age of 18 to study at the city’s Information Technology College.
Studying to be an IT engineer, becoming a futsal player was not something he ever considered.
Tran Van Vu runs with the ball during a friendly between Vietnam and Spain ahead of the World Cup tournament. Photo courtesy of VFF
"I did not have a single second thinking about football as a career. When I studied at the college, I just considered it as a hobby and played for fun," Vu said.
Born in a poor farming family, he knew that academic education could help him escape poverty. Having a good job would support his family who work growing pepper plants and cashew and rubber trees.
After school, he spent his free time playing street football where he would show off amazing skills and was nicknamed the 'Neymar' due to his fancy footwork.
By the end of 2008, the Tan Hiep Hung Futsal Club recruited Vu after he impressed on a trial with his smart and skilled technique, although he did not take part in a training centre.
"In my two-month probation with the team, I kept studying. At that time futsal was not developed much, so I just trained in the morning and went to school in the afternoon," said Vu.
"I felt comfortable sharing time for both until I graduated in 2012 when I found futsal was really attractive and decided to pay all my attention to it.
Tan Hiep Hung was his first 'home' that guided him, but Thai Son Nam played a key role in lifting him up.
"I kept eyes on him in the tournament in 2008-09 when I retired from playing to become scout for Thai Son Nam. I asked him to come to our club for trial and he was recruited," said coach Truong Quoc Tuan.
Three years after his first official training, Vu became member of the national team in 2011.
"Vu is good in both defending and attacking. He has skilled technique with a smart playing style and can read the game well. He also has powerful and sudden finishes which surprise people, especially the goal he scored in Vietnam's 3-2 win over Brazil in a friendly in 2013," said Tuan.
"Thai Son Nam and the national team have worked with many different coaches but all of them have praised Vu and he always secures an official berth in their line-up. It is really rare because each coach has their own futsal philosophy and applies it differently for each club."
Vu made the right choice. The defender has the most individual and team titles and is the most experienced player for both club and the national team.
He was MVP of the national championship in 2013-15, and the only player winning a hat-trick of Golden Ball awards in 2015, 2016 and 2019 for best futsal player of the year, together with a Bronze Ball in 2017. He was voted the best futsal player of the ASEAN Football Federation in 2019.
Tran Van Vu (right) has played futsal for nearly 11 years. He is one of the most experienced players in the national team. Photo: Nld.com.vn
Vu is one of several Vietnamese futsal athletes who have had the chance to compete abroad, with a loan move to Spanish side O Parrulo FS in 2019.
"I am very grateful for my club Thai Son Nam for helping me move to Spain. Thanks to help from the coach and team-mates [in O Parrulo FS], I quickly adapted to the new environment and during my one-and-half-month stay, I gained useful experience in both technical and tactical terms."
At club level, Vu has played a key role in Thai Son Nam's success in local and international tournaments.
Thai Son Nam have dominated the national championship with eight titles since 2010. They won one bronze in the ASEAN Futsal Clubs Championship in 2016 and three bronzes in the Asian Futsal Clubs Championship in 2015, 2017 and 2019, and one silver in 2018.
As a member of the national team, Vu scored important goals for Vietnam when they beat holders on penalties Japan in the 2016 Asian championship's quarter-finals. Vu’s double saw the two sides draw 4-4, but they went through in the shootout.
World Cup coming
Vietnam will play in the Lithuania event's Group D with a clash against five-time winners Brazil on September 13, before taking on Panama and the Czech Republic on September 16 and 19, respectively.
The 24-team tournament runs from September 12 to October 3.
The two top squads of six groups and four best third-placed ones will advance to the next round.
Vietnam have just completed their training course and competition test in Spain and are putting the final touches in preparation for their second biggest tournament in history.
"Needless to say, we are in a hard group and the opponents we are facing are stronger than those of Colombia 2016," Vu told the FIFA website. "But we are no longer newcomers and with our experience [from the last World Cup], we are hoping that we can emulate our success of 2016."
Vietnam have researched their rivals. Brazil and the Czech Republic are at a higher level and expected to take the two top positions in the group. But Vietnam will vie for a berth in the next round with Panama.
The task is to defeat them and take maximum three points and hope to go through as one of the best placed third teams.
"Brazil are the undisputed No 1 favourites and Czech Republic are very strong -- they defeated Italy in qualification. But Panama are a team of the same level as us. Our coaching team will make suitable tactics against each side so we hope we will have the best possible results."
Vu, one of four remaining players from the 2016 World Cup squad, said his team under coach Pham Minh Giang had received strong support and best conditions (in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic) for a successful event.
“Giang has shown that he is a good coach to lead the team for the Futsal World Cup. Under him, the team have plenty of young players who have both good skills and thinking. As the captain, I want to support them through my experience and try to help the team achieve good results,” Vu said.