Vietnam’s fans capture the hearts of a nation with unrivalled support at the AFC Asian Cup. Image Credit: AFC

Dubai: The wry smile said it all. Vietnam’s South Korean coach Park Hang-seo knew his team’s fight at the 2019 AFC Asian Cup had finally come to a conclusion. The Golden Dragons showed true grit and poise while stretching their famed Japanese opponents in Thursday’s quarter-final. They had not been overawed at all. Vietnam just dug in and in fact, came close to getting a goal on a few occasions.

Finally, it was the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) that proved crucial as Ritsu Doan’s 57th minute penalty for Japan separated the two teams.

“What more could I do? I knew a goal would make a difference. And though we let in a goal I knew my players would not be giving up so easily. So once the whistle blew I knew it was really over for this young team. Until then I had hope,” the 60-year-old Park said explaining the smile.

“This is a young team and so is the VAR. The officials were using VAR for the first time. I am confident that both will get better in the future — my team and the VAR,” he quipped.

Park is a respected figure in East Asia, both as player and now as a coach. He captained the South Korea under-20 squad that won the 1978 AFC Youth Championship held in Bangladesh. On March 8, 1981 Park played his lone international for the senior squad that won 1-0 against Japan.

“I never expected to be here last year. And I am sure that not many of you expected Vietnam to be here [in the quarter-finals]. This was a sort of a mini miracle for all of us where we all believed we could fight any team and even win,” Park said.

“For us, getting games against strong teams like Japan, Iran and Iraq has helped tremendously as we have learnt so much from these. This is an experience that will do us good for the future,” he added.

That experience aside, Park felt that his young team will continue evolving into one of the better teams of Asia. “For us, reaching the quarter-finals was enough of a drama. We didn’t had enough time to prepare for this competition, But I think we did our best and even though we lost we have shown our will to fight till the end. I am really satisfied with this performance. I would liked another miracle, but that didn’t happen today,” he smiled.