Vietnam defeated Thailand 7-6 in a penalty shootout after a dramatic semifinal game of the Under-21 International Football Competition in Gia Lai Province played in heavy rain on Sunday.
Ten thousand odd spectators at the stadium in Pleiku City and millions of TV viewers were treated to a thrilling 90 minutes as the Vietnamese and Thai players displayed all their skills.
This is the fifth edition of the invitational football contest initiated by Thanh Nien newspaper.
The young Vietnamese players took the lead in just two minutes when striker Ha Minh Tuan found the net from close range after midfielder Nhat Nam's powerful shot from outside the penalty area hit a Thai player in the leg.
The Thai players also showed off sound defense and attacking skills as they worked hard for an equalizer, but the first half ended with hosts leading by a solitary goal.
The Thai rivals continued to fight hard after the break and their renewed efforts earned them an equalizer midway through the second half.
The hosts then put more pressure on Thai players to go into the lead again. They created several clear chances but the best shot was one by Duy Thanh that hit the right post of Thailand's goal in the final minute of the stoppage time and the winners had to be decided in a penalty shootout.
The first six shots from each teams were unstoppable for both goalkeepers but Vietnam's goalkeeper Nguyen Thanh Diep saved Thailand's seventh shot before Minh Tuan beat the Thai custodian to give the hosts a berth in the final.
The Vietnam Football Federation announced a VND100 million (US$4,800) award for the Vietnamese team.
Major-General Nguyen Xuan Sang, Commander of the 15th Multi-Battalion, promised a VND50 million cash prize for the team if the young players went on to win the championship.
Speaking after the match, Vietnam's U21 team coach Nguyen Quoc Tuan said, "The heavy rain made the field very slippery, making it very hard for my players.
"Yet they played with strong determination and with a bit of luck, we won the game. The coaching staff will help the players recover quickly and prepare well for the final."
Thai coach Apinan Horsangchai said, "The hosts were full of energy and they were tough and calm, so they won the match.
"It was a pity we lost the game although we prepared very well for the competition. We were better prepared than the hosts because, as I know, the Vietnamese U21 players had only got together less than a week before the event.
"However, they played very well. The heavy rain made the match less exciting although my players did their best."
In the second semifinals, Iran's young players displayed better skills than rivals from Qatar's football academy Aspire club to post a 1-0 victory to set up a clash with hosts Vietnam in the final game on Tuesday. Aspire will fight Thai players for the third place in the 9-day contest.