Laos U19 vs Australia U19
Vietnam Youth Football Training Centre / AFF U19 Youth Championship / September 19, 2016
When the upcoming Vietnamese National Cup Final finishes, I’ll have watched 30 football matches in Vietnam in 2016. It’s not an impressive total, but with an unsympathetic work schedule and the lengthy distances involved in travelling around Vietnam, it’s one I’m not unhappy with. The figure has had a significant boost through September as Hanoi played host to the AFF U19 Youth Football Championship and with 29 matches taking place over 13 days, even my work pattern wasn’t going to prevent me from attending a few games.
The focus of this blog post, Laos U19 versus Australia U19, was to be my third game in three days. First up was a trip to Hang Day Stadium and the dramatic end to the 2016 V.League 1. Four teams could still claim the title, although fourth-placed Than Quang Ninh needed a hefty swing in the goal difference column. DaNang sat third on 46 points, with HaiPhong and Hà Nội T&T one point ahead. T&T’s previous home three home attendances had been 2,000, 1,500 and 2,000, but the league’s exciting finale had attracted a crowd of 12,000. Work meant I wouldn’t be arriving at the game against Thanh Hoa until half-time, and when I did eventually get to the ground the gates were locked. That meant, despite having attended all of T&T’s previous 12 home league fixtures, I had to watch the season’s climax unfold on a TV in a cafe outside. Plastics, eh? Thankfully, with 20 minutes to go, the gates opened and fellow late arrival Chris and I got witness T&T captain Gonzalo Marronkle scoring his second goal in a 2-0 home win before lifting the V.League trophy.
24 hours later I was back at Hang Day to see Vietnam U19 play Malaysia. It was a battle between the top two in Group A of the 11-team tournament, and it was the hosts who were victorious. Vietnam were in control following an early goal and sealed a spot in the semi-finals with ten minutes to play. There was late excitement with two injury time goals, but the host’s 3-1 victory resulted in progress for them and elimination for Malaysia.
Hang Day was the main venue, hosting all of Vietnam’s games as well as both semi-finals and the final, but the Laos-Australia game was taking place at the Vietnam Youth Football Training Centre. For me and Bill, my Hanoi Football Show co-host and probably the most well-travelled football fan in Vietnam, it was going to be a new ground.
It seemed when I arrived in Vietnam that my enthusiasm for craft beer would suffer in the same way as my groundhopping. Thankfully the country now has a growing craft beer scene and one of the newest places to get a glass of the good stuff is the Hanoi Ale House, which was where Bill and I headed for a couple of pre-game beers. We were greeted with some great service- not something that can be taken for granted here- and a bar featuring ten ales on tap (and an apology that it was just ten). I went for Lac Brewing’s Devil Lake IPA and later an expensive bottle of Holgate’s Road Trip IPA. Then it was time to head to the Youth Training Centre.
The training complex, just across the road from Mỹ Đình National Stadium, has player residences, several pitches and all the other facilities that the aspiring young footballer needs. It is also, we think, where Hans Jürgen Gede, the Vietnam Football Federation’s German Technical Director, lives. He was having a meeting with other the Vietnam coaches on his terrace before an early evening training session.
The Laos-Australia game was taking place on Pitch Three. The field has a single stand that it is suggested can seat 1,000. We were sat behind the Australian dugout, which was to prove a good choice for the entertainment provided by the Aussie coach.
Ufuk Talay is a former Galatasaray midfielder who was a late substitute in the club’s 1996 Turkish Cup Final triumph (following goals from Wales’ Dean Saunders). That was, of course, the night Graeme Souness planted a Galatasaray flag in the middle of Fenerbahce’s field and it looks like the Scot had an an influence on Talay’s management style. As Australia dominated the first half, Talay could regularly be heard barking at his taller players to surround Laos’ fairly short goalkeeper. The young sticksman wasn’t to be intimidated, though, and his saves were the main reason the young Socceroos couldn’t make their dominance pay.
Just as they had when Bill and I had seen them take on Thailand, Laos grew into the game as the half went on. I’ve not really done any Lost Boyos Asia awards, but if there was a Cosmin Matei Hipster of the Season award then the 2016 winner would be Laos’ Maitee (and the award would be renamed after Cambodia’s Chan Vathanaka). Already twice capped at full international level, the young attacker had four goals to his name in the tournament and was causing the Australian defence a lot of problems, but his composure in front of goal was letting him down today.
In the end it was a loss of composure in the Aussie defence that brought about the first goal. Right on half time, Christopher Zuvela mistimed a clearance and Laos’ Santi opened the scoring to the excitement of the small group of Laotian fans.
Half-Time: Laos 1-0 Australia
The second half was similar to the first, with Australia dominating play and Laos looking to use Maitee’s pace on the break. As the half wore on, the Australian players and increasingly Talay were getting frustrated with Laos’s time-wasting tactics, mostly cases of cramp.
With about 30 minutes of the second half gone, Australia managed to score. A nice move down the left freed Steve Kuzmanovski and his cross was finished off by Lachlan Scott. Ten minutes later, substitute George Blackwood converted a penalty to finally give the Aussies a deserved lead, but his frustrations with Laos’ players got the better of him as he celebrated by goading the Laos goalkeeper. It was very unsporting.
In the final minutes, Kuzmanovski had a shot saved, which allowed Laos one last chance to aim a long pass towards Maitee. Nothing came of it, but that didn’t stop Kuzmanovski getting a thorough telling-off from Talay on the final whistle.
Full-Time: Laos 1-2 Australia
Two days later, Australia looked like a different team as they dispatched Vietnam 5-2 in the semi-final. Blackwood, wearing the captain’s armband, redeemed himself with two goals and a lovely step-over assist to set up Mario Shabow. The final, played just after a heavy storm, came only two days after that and again the Aussies scored five goals, defeating Thailand 5-1. It was a remarkable turnaround given that Thailand had won the earlier fixture- just six days earlier, in fact- between these two sides by the same scoreline. Blackwood got his sixth of the tournament to finish as top-scorer, and then got to lift the trophy. Australia were worthy winners. They may have had a physical advantage over some teams, but it was their superior football that was behind their two victories and ten goals in the semi-final and final.
It’s great, youth football. There’s always some great memory. It might be a creative set-piece, like a Dutch (or maybe Portuguese) free-kick routine I remember watching on Eurosport in the 90s or Eziquiel Calvente’s wrong foot penalty in 2010. Of course, there’s also the chance to boast of how you saw someone first; I’ll tell anyone who’ll listen about witnessing Toni Kroos’ Golden Ball performances at the FIFA U17 World Cup back in 2007.
I don’t think I saw the next Toni Kroos, but the five AFF U19 Championship matches were of a very good standard. In the stands, too, things were good. Apart from those leaving early during the Australia defeat, the home fans turned out in good numbers for an age-grade tournament, while Laos and Thailand both received great support. This regional youth tournament certainly points to the continuing growth of the game in South East Asia.
Bad: being locked out of the V.League finale; George Blackwood’s celebration; Vietnam fans leaving as their young team went down.