Vietnamese footballers fought hard to a force a 1-1 draw with the Republic of Korea in the second game of the U19 Southeast Asian Open at HCMC's Thong Nhat Stadium on Monday.
Before the game, Vietnamese fans were hoping for an upset as had happened in the qualifying round of the 2010 Asian U19 Football Championship in Bangkok in November 2009, when the team beat their highly fancied rivals 1-0.
However, the hopes were belied, and the Vietnamese youngsters had to come from behind to snatch a point just as they did against Thailand two days earlier.
Faced with the physically superior RoK players, the home team played defensive football, waiting for chances to make a counterstrike. They were successful in preventing the visitors from scoring in the first half, but soon after the break RoK took the lead, Lee Ki Je beating Vietnamese goalkeeper Buu Ngoc with a free kick.
With nothing to lose, the Vietnamese players went on the offensive. They came close twice but failed to convert clear chances to equalize. However, the tireless attacks paid off during stoppage time of the second half when substitute Van Thanh, who scored the equalizer against Thailand two days earlier, headed home the ball again.
National team head coach Henrique Calisto, who watched the match, said, "The U19 Vietnamese players will have a bright future if they continue to play in high spirits like they did in the final minutes. But there are so many things to do to improve the team; especially the midfielders need to be stronger. It is not okay to feel inferior when playing against bigger rivals."
In the other match, Thailand and Australia also fought to a 1-1 draw, putting Australia on top, followed by Vietnam, Thailand and the RoK.
In the final game, the young Vietnamese players must beat the socceroos to be able to play in the final.
The tournament is an important one for the hosts as it prepares them for the 2010 Asian Football Confederation U19 Championship in Shangdong, China in October.