SEA Games: Football gold kicks off the biggest party for Vietnam

Vietnam players celebrate with their gold medals after winning the match, on May 22, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

HANOI - Even as the rain bucketed down on the My Dinh National Stadium hours before kick-off, nothing was going to stop the football-mad hosts from partying on Sunday (May 22) night.

Over 40,000 fans had packed the venue to roar on their team to a second consecutive football gold, and party they did as Vietnam defeated regional kingpins Thailand 1-0 to retain their title.

Cheers erupted as the final whistle was blown, kisses and hugs flowed between friends and strangers in the stadium - and out on the Hanoi streets - as shirtless fans waved their red jerseys in celebration.

And they had every reason to rejoice after a turbulent two years that saw Ho Chi Minh City and the wider South locked down for months during the pandemic, forcing people to remain indoors as Vietnam battled a surge in Covid-19 cases.

Here at the My Dinh Stadium on Sunday, the only clinical thing was the 84th minute header from Nham Manh Dung which proved to be the only goal of the night.

Football fan Tran Van Long, 48, told The Straits Times that this was the happiest that he had felt since the pandemic hit the country two years ago.

Less than a year ago, Long was laid off from his job as a receptionist at a local hotel, where he had worked for six years. He now works as a rider for bike-hailing service Grab.

Said Long: "This feeling is so good. This is why most Vietnamese people are always supporting the team because there are not many other things that can make us this happy.

"I feel like crying. This match makes me forget the virus. I cannot sleep tonight, I think."

Three years ago, Vietnam's football team defeated Indonesia 3-0 to win their first-ever gold medal in the sport - sparking wild celebrations across the country.

Vietnam players celebrate with coach Park Hang-Seo after winning the match, on May 22, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

But this time, the party mood was turned up several notches with victory coming again on home soil as celebrations spilled over from the stadium to the streets of Hanoi.

Within minutes of the victory, several red flares were lit up on the main street outside My Dinh Stadium, filling the air with thick smoke. From Le Duc Tho road to the Old Quarter, traffic came to a near standstill as supporters waved the national flag amid cheers and celebratory honks.

The only evidence of Covid-19 was the handful of people who kept their masks on. But when it came to social distancing - all caution was thrown to the wind for one night of football fun.

Vietnam had already won 204 gold medals to top the medal table at these Games but this one - gold No. 205 - was what really mattered to many fans.

Fans celebrate outside the stadium after Vietnam won gold, on May 22, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

Nguyen Manh Tu, 47, stood outside the stadium on Sunday, soaking in the atmosphere, as well as the rain, as it started to pour again.

"Only in Vietnam," he said.

"Everyone is so happy because they have kept this feeling inside for too long. Tonight, we all celebrate. I am so proud of this team. They keep making the country happy but this is maybe the best moment from them."

Fans hold up a Vietnam flag during the match. PHOTO: REUTERS

The beer would surely continue to flow deep into the night and judging by the sea of motorcycles and cars packing the Hanoi streets, the merry making was just getting started.

And after the tumultuous time Vietnam has had, why not? So, mot, hai, ba, dzo (one, two, three, cheers) Hanoi!

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HANOI - Nothing was going to stop the football-mad hosts from partying on Sunday (May 22) night.

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