After 90 compelling minutes and extra time and penalties in the late-afternoon Dubai sun, the final team to qualify for the Asian Cup knockouts were the last men standing.
To many people’s surprise, Vietnam outlasted Jordan in their last-16 encounter at a lively Al Maktoum Stadium. They rebounded from a goal down to their fancied opponents, then survived the shootout nerves.
They displayed the robustness and the resolve that carried this side to last year's Asian Games semi-finals, then the AFF Championship title barely a month ago.
In the end, Vietnam celebrated in front of their exuberant supporters, who could barely believe it. Although they should. Deservedly, Vietnam are Asian Cup quarter-finalists.
“We don’t get much support compared with other rich countries, but our players know very well we are one team and I always remind them of that,” said manager Park Hang-seo, who entered the news conference to rapturous applause.
“We fight together. Today my players completed their mission, 100 per cent. I’m very proud of them.”
Park’s pride was well placed. Having made it this far only by dint of their fair-play record, Vietnam fared better on Sunday than many expected. Once 120 minutes had played out, and Jordan missed twice from 12 yards and Vietnam once, defender Bui Tien Dung strode forward and casually converted the decisive penalty.
Now, Vietnam can look forward to either Japan or Saudi Arabia in the next round.
“There’s no easy team for us in the knockout stage,” Park replied when asked which of the two he would prefer. “All teams in the last 16 are all strong by their Fifa ranking and their performance. So which team is easier is not a concern.”
At the time, he would have been concerned by Jordan’s opener. With six minutes of the first half remaining, and long after Yaseen Al Bakhit had wasted a golden opportunity for his team, Vietnam’s Do Hung Dung nicked a bouncing ball fractionally before Salem Al Ajalin and prompted the Jordanian defender to drop to the turf clutching his boot.
The foul, if it was even that, appeared to have taken place just inside the Vietnam penalty area, although referee Alireza Faghani awarded a free-kick right on the line. Nevertheless, from an acute angle on the left, Bahaa Abdelrahman curled the ball brilliantly into the opposing goal.
However, Vietnam rallied. Shortly after half time, they grabbed their reward. On 51 minutes, Nguyen Trong Hoang’s deliciously whipped cross from the right found Nguyen Cong Phuong among three markers, and the forward directed home on the volley. It was the first goal Jordan had conceded all tournament.
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They were fortunate not to surrender another as Vietnam, buoyed by the equaliser, pushed forward. Phan Van Duc squandered their best chance, though, failing to do enough to prod into the Jordan net having lifted the ball beyond goalkeeper Amer Shafi.
Shafi’s side steadied, eventually, as both teams saw out the match and extra time ensued. In the first additional period, Abdelrahman tried his luck again from a free-kick on the left, but Vietnam stopper Dang Van Lam punched clear his swerving effort. For all the endeavour, the 30 minutes passed almost without incident.
And so to penalties, where Baha Seif thumped against the crossbar and Ahmed Saleh saw his spot-kick saved. When Tran Minh Vuong failed to seal the win at the first attempt, Vietnam's victory suddenly felt in jeopardy, but the sensation was fleeting. But stood strong to send the South-East Asians surging forward.
“The whole game I think Vietnam deserved the win,” Jordans magnanimous manager Vital Borkelmans said. “All respect for Vietnam, they did very good in the second half. Then the penalty shootout and, you know, we go home, they stay.”