Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Completely forgot to post this last week, Vietnam are now out of the cup, the mood is gone, life goes on, and now the closing punchline doesn't really hold true, but still, anyway, here's Teddy's pitch side version of the Vietnam-Japan game last week.

The invincibles
We arrive early for the game at My Dinh Stadium and decide to join a few merry men at a nearby bia hoi. With the temperature in the mid-30s it’s thirsty work just sitting here knocking back beers.

Most of our crew is dressed in Vietnam-jerseys so we’re instantly inducted into the circle of trust, where it’s customary to clink glasses every twenty seconds and take turns shouting Viet Nam Vo Dich (Vietnam’s invincible). We slug down more beers with water chasers until it’s time to slip away with the crowd which is heading en masse towards the stadium.

There’s an intoxicating buzz in the air. The Red and Gold-clad army of Vietnam fans are pumped up. We shuffle through the gates and run for the stands. The whistle blows as I try to find my seat. A fairly laissez faire approach has been taken to where people actually sit. As it happens my seat hasn’t been taken.

I settle down then seemingly seconds later I’m standing, then jumping, then embracing Tuan Anh – though I don’t find out his name until a few minutes later – the spectator beside me. Vietnam has scored, or rather Japan has, but rather obligingly into their own net. The stadium goes bananas. The crowd is hungry for more, the team surges forward but the Japanese team soaks up the pressure. These players are seasoned pros. Big league players who’ve graced the World Cup. They don’t panic that they’re one down. They spread it around at the back. Sizing up their opponents, probing for spaces until eventually as cool as you like a fluid move from one side of the pitch to the other then back again sees Japan equalise. The crowd’s defiant cheers dissipate.

As the half goes on Japan’s dominance grows. A well taken free kick puts them in front. By half time the Vietnamese team has completely lost its mojo. The crowd, too. Tuan Anh slumps in his chair at the break and phones his father, who tells him more heartbreaking news. In the other game in Vietnam’s Group, Qatar is winning one nil against UAE. This means Vietnam, as it stands, is out of the tournament. The score comes up on the electronic board and 40,000 people cry in collective despair.

Now Vietnam has to come back. So when the team returns the crowd is back on its feet and everyone is screaming their heads off.

The Vietnamese start well but once again the Japanese side seems that bit cooler on the ball. A slick sequence of passes by Japan sees play move from one end to the other and the ball is curled into the top corner of the net. Not long afterwards, a fourth goal is scored by the Japanese team and it’s sayonara to the hosts. The Vietnamese now face immediate elimination. The team is now floundering. The fans moan about players’ lack of movement. A woman asks aloud is it going to rain as the clouds go dark and ominous. An early exit is on the cards. Her husband pulls long and hard on his cigarette and says nothing.

Then just when it seems all is lost a sudden shout from one section of the crowd sparks interest from everyone. Mobile phones are whipped out in unison. Frantic calls are made. Another section of the crowd roars. Then someone near us shouts out, “UAE have equalised!”

Everyone is embracing again. It’s not as good as a three goal comeback followed by an outrageous injury time winner would have been but it’ll do nicely. Somewhere on the pitch star striker Le Cong Vinh chases down a ball but no one is watching. The network’s jammed with nervous fans calling for constant updates. Japan comes close to adding a fifth. Vietnam’s manager Riedl throws on a few subs for tired legs but perhaps also with a potential quarter final in mind.

Again another section of the crowd bursts into rapture. Someone near us shouts out UAE is winning 2-1 and howls of delight ring out all around us. An Englishman dressed in Vietnam colours leads a chant of “U - A - E! U - A - E!” and thousands join in. Someone, somewhere is even playing a trumpet. A fiesta has begun.

A couple of minutes later Tuan Anh gets through to his father who says UAE didn’t score again. It’s still 1-1. Vietnam’s fate is still in the balance. Tuan Anh informs everyone around him and a hundred eyes screw through him. He sits down out of view. Don’t shoot the messenger.

An eternity passes over the next 10 minutes, the forgotten game in front of our eyes in Vietnam’s national stadium finally ends, the winning team gathers in the corner and bows before the applause of their fans.

But no one from Vietnam is going home quite yet. Thousands remain seated waiting for the final whistle from Ho Chi Minh City. Dark clouds rumble over head. Eventually the Vietnam players on the far side jump up in the air. The cries of “U - A - E!” start up again. No one knows what UAE stands for, no one cares, tonight they are the toast of Vietnam. A sea of screaming fans floods out to begin the celebrations on the streets of the capital. Outclassed on the pitch but still proudly in the tournament – I should have known, Vietnam’s invincible.

By Teddy de Burca Jnr


Anonymous said...

i don't know if it's your poetic words (have you considered writing professionally? :))or that i'm a just football fan, but i'm riveted by your description of the match. wish i were there!

formerly Hue man

pittstop designer said...

Ah, stop now, I'm blushing.

Was a great but strange experience alright. As my father Teddy de Burca Snr. pointed out, reminiscent of the Scottish international Gary McKay's last-gasp goal against Bulgaria, in 1988, which put the Republic of Ireland into the European Championships.

The whole country must have thrown beer into their air when that goal went in. We weren't playing but yet celebrating our first qualification to a major championship.

Our manager, Jack Charlton was famously fishing for salmon at the time.

Certainly hope Gary McKay never pays for his pints when he visits Ireland.

Hercé said...

your mum doesn't fool us by signing in as anonymous or out as formerly hue man........