Football: Departing coach Park focused on Vietnam's push for victory

Vietnam coach Park Hang-seo and his players at Jalan Besar Stadium on Dec 29, 2022. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

HANOI – Monday marks the end of an era for Vietnamese football as Park Hang-seo leads the national team for the last time, with the much-loved South Korean coach looking to sign off in style by bringing the country a third Asean Football Federation (AFF) Championship title.

Vietnam meet defending champions Thailand in the second leg of the final at Thammasat Stadium outside Bangkok, with the Thais in the driving seat after a 2-2 draw in Hanoi last Friday, the 65-year-old Park’s last game at the My Dinh Stadium.

“We need only one goal (more than Thailand) to become champions,” he said ahead of Monday’s vital clash.

“Of course, 2-2 is not a good score for Vietnam ahead of the second leg in Thailand, because of the away-goal rule.

“Thailand have the advantage, but that doesn’t mean we give up. We will try to win in Thailand.”

Park, an assistant to Guus Hiddink when South Korea reached the 2002 World Cup semi-finals, has overseen an upsurge in the national team’s fortunes during his five years in charge.

But while the end of his tenure is just around the corner, he is focused only on getting the right result for his team.

“From the beginning of my contract till now, my players and I have always tried our best in each competition and each match,” he said earlier in the competition.

“There is no change even though I am stepping down after the tournament.

“We focus on the next match and not think about what is the last match (for me).”

After taking over in September 2017, Park led Vietnam to the semi-finals of the 2018 Asian Games and winning the Asean Championship later the same year.

In 2019, Park’s team progressed to the quarter-finals of the Asian Cup, losing 1-0 to four-time champions Japan. They also reached the final phase of Asia’s World Cup preliminaries for the first time during qualifying for Qatar 2022.

Park’s impact has seen him lauded at home, with South Korea President Yoon Suk-yeol awarding him the Heungin Medal for promoting friendship between the countries.

In Vietnam, a documentary was shown to sell-out crowds in cinemas across the country.

Having previously said he plans to open an academy in Vietnam once his tenure ends, Park looks set to continue helping the country in its pursuit of a first World Cup Finals berth.

With Asia’s guaranteed quota increasing to eight spots for the 2026 World Cup, that goal appears closer than ever. REUTERS

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