The reason why Vietnam’s national football team fares so badly, you will often be told, is because of size. Vietnamese players just aren’t big enough.
While physical size and strength does matter, you don’t need to be big to be a successful footballer. Lionel Messi is only 1m70 and Neymar isn’t much taller, reaching the dizzy heights of 1m75. Pele, that Brazilian superstar who may be the best player to ever grace a football field, was slightly built and a little shorter than Neymar. Then there were the likes of Kenny Dalglish, Gary Lineker and George Best. None of them were particularly tall.
All meaning that when Vietnam’s U20 side played in the World Cup back in May, they broke with perceived local wisdom.
The first time that any Vietnamese team in modern history had qualified for a FIFA event, the squad went into the 24-nation tournament in South Korea with high hopes. The year before, the national under-19 team had reached the semi-finals of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup. It was the furthest any Vietnamese team had progressed in this tournament and many of the team members were in the squad for the Under-20 competition.
Yet the fairy tale was not to be.
While the first game saw the Vietnamese team notch up a 0-0 draw with New Zealand, they were less effective against France (lost 4-0) and Honduras (lost 2-0), meaning an early exit.
Still, the U-20 team could hold their heads high. Although not that high. As anyone from Vietnam will tell you, they need to be a bit taller for that.
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