This article is part of the Guardian’s Women’s World Cup 2023 Experts’ Network, a cooperation between some of the best media organisations from the 32 countries who qualified. theguardian.com is running previews from two countries each day in the run-up to the tournament kicking off on 20 July.
Making their Women’s World Cup debut, Vietnam are one of the least experienced teams in the tournament. The women’s national side was formed in 1990 and the team played their first official international match in 1997. Around this time, many of the mainstays of the current side were just being born. However, over the past 26 years, the team have made great strides, recently rising from 42nd to 32nd in the Fifa world rankings (and from eighth to fifth in Asia).
Vietnamese women’s football has witnessed an advance at lightning speed in the past decade with the team being crowned South East Asian Games champions four times in a row. Their achievements in south-east Asia are a solid stepping stone for Vietnam to assert themselves on the wider international stage. They earned their place in the World Cup after an intense playoff series in the 2022 AFC Women’s Asian Cup, beating Thailand and Taiwan (Chinese Taipei).
Although there is a lot to do regarding women’s football development, Vietnam is able to maintain a national championship with seven teams. We have also witnessed the first internationally exported players with Huynh Nhu going to Portugal and Tran Thi Hong Nhung to Thailand. The team’s appearance at the World Cup is expected to boost the growth of women’s football so that Vietnam can close the gap to the top Asian teams.
“We don’t set high ambitions but during this tournament we can learn a lot,” the coach, Mai Duc Chung, told fifa.com. “It’s a chance for us to compete with very good opponents and we can learn from their experience, skills and techniques. We also have to be mentally strong. We will respect all the competitors, but we are not scared.”
Vietnam will play on the counterattack. The strength of this side is that they possess a pair of fast wingers in Tuyet Dung and Thanh Nha, and an agile striker who is also a good finisher, Huynh Nhu. This style of play helped them score against Germany during a friendly in Frankfurt in June.
The World Cup will be Mai Duc Chung’s last tournament as the head coach, closing the curtain on a glorious career with the women’s and men’s national teams. Various foreign coaches had been hired, but no one could make Vietnam’s World Cup dream come true until Chung. He is famous for being a “stuntman” (or emergency caretaker) as he has, far too many times, been temporarily placed in charge of Vietnam’s men’s and under-23 teams in times of crisis, until a new coach could be found.
Huynh Nhu, the only exported Vietnamese player in the squad, is the captain, the main striker and the entire team’s inspiration. She scored seven goals in her first season at Länk in Portugal. The five-times Vietnam Golden Ball winner has shown great adaptability to the European environment and is discussing a contract extension with Länk. Coincidentally, Portugal are Vietnam’s second opponents in the group stage. Huynh Nhu is a complete striker, she shoots well with either foot, is dangerous in the air and can dribble. She is also a threat from free-kicks, as she has shown during her time at Länk.
At 21 years old, Nguyen Thi Thanh Nha already has 27 caps for Vietnam, scoring seven goals. She has won two SEA Games gold medals, competed in the Asian Cup quarter-finals and will be key in this World Cup. A tricky and versatile attacker, Thanh Nha – already a star on Vietnamese social networks – is not an expert finisher but her speed is impressive. In the friendly Vietnam lost 2-1 in Germany, she showed quick feet before scoring against the team ranked second in the world.
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At a time when naturalisation has become common in every corner of the world, this side stands out as there are no naturalised or overseas players in the team. All of the squad has trained domestically and most of the players play for Vietnamese clubs. Huynh Nhu is the only one playing abroad.
Football is the most popular sport in Vietnam, but women’s football is not on an equal footing with the men’s game. With the exception of the national team getting considerable attention, most club-level matches attract only a few hundred to 1,000 fans. Vietnamese women’s football still has a long way to go to reach professionalisation, and better commercialisation, to receive more attention.
Realistic aim at the World Cup?
Being placed in Group E with the reigning world champions, the USA, and the 2019 runners-up, the Netherlands, Vietnam are not realistic candidates for one of the top two positions. Their most likely target is to limit the number of goals conceded and to try to look for something in the other match, against Portugal, who are fellow World Cup first-timers.
Written by Minh Chien Tu for Zing.