SEOUL, Feb. 9 (Korea Bizwire) – Fresh off steering Vietnam’s men’s soccer squad to a tightly contested finals loss against champion Uzebkistan in the 2018 AFC U-23 Championship, South Korean head coach Park Hang-seo was greeted with considerable fanfare in his return home on February 8.
A soccer lifer who served as an assistant under Dutch coach Guus Hiddink in South Korea’s miracle run to the semifinals of the 2002 FIFA World Cup, Park took the reins of the Vietnamese soccer program on October 25, promising improvement.
Like his mentor, Park took a team of lowly underdogs with very little expectations placed on them to the very pinnacle of a major soccer competition, earning him the title of “Vietnam’s Hiddink” in some circles.
No Vietnamese soccer team at any age level has gone as far as the U-23 squad; in fact, no Southeast Asian delegation has ever reached the semifinals of a major tournament.
Also Hiddink-esque was the reception Park garnered from supporters. Just as the streets of South Korea were overflowing with joyous fans in red in 2002, red-clad Vietnamese likewise came out in force to show their support for their team and the job Park had accomplished.
At a press conference, Park revealed that the Vietnamese team’s performance was beyond even what he could have expected. He also said he felt added responsibility ever since the coaching staff and team were greeted by throngs of fans after returning to Vietnam from the tournament in China.
When asked about the secret behind the historic success, Park mentioned the players’ passion and hard work, as well as strong trust and faith between them and the coaching staff.
Park was recognized by the Vietnamese government for his work with the conferral of a Third Class Labor Medal by the prime minister. Whether Park can emulate Hiddink once more and win honorary citizenship (Hiddink was granted South Korean honorary citizenship in 2002) remains to be seen.
Kevin Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org)