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Vietnam gripped by football fever ahead of cup final

Sunday, January 28, 2018

HANOI - Amid a deafening symphony of motorbike horns and the sound of wooden spoons beating against kitchen pots and pans, thousands of Vietnamese took to the streets this week to celebrate victory in an otherwise little-followed sporting event: the under-23 Asian Cup semi-finals.

The reaction might seem over the top for a non-elite football match but in Vietnam the result of Tuesday's match was met with scenes of national celebration and unity usually seen around World Cup victories.

"When we won the semi-final, my blood was boiling. I couldn't believe that it really happened," said Nguyen Tung Duong, a small business owner in Hanoi who, like thousands of others, filled one of Hanoi's many cafes and bars on Tuesday to watch the under-23 side beat Qatar in the semi-final.

"In that moment, I felt undying love for our Motherland".

The progress of the side is seen as a good measure of where a country is likely to be in the next senior World Cup cycle and nations such as Qatar and China have invested heavily in building age-group teams as they look towards 2022.

And in Vietnam, which rarely fares well in international sports, the progress of the young team has become a national obsession.

"The atmosphere in Vietnam at the moment is as if the World Cup is being hosted here," football commentator Truong Anh Ngoc told Reuters.

Cinemas are screening today's final against Uzbekistan free.

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