Duc Hoa: Vietnam are aiming for our first Asian Cup medal

In an interview on FIFA, captain Pham Duc Hoa of the Vietnam futsal team said that he and his teammates are aiming to win the first medal at the upcoming Asian futsal tournament.

  04/04/2024 09:23:11

The greats all have it: a driving determination to shut out the noise, remain focussed purely on the moment and not let external distractions interrupt performance. As a youngster, honing his craft on the grass rather than the court, that single-mindedness earned Pham Duc Hoa a unique nickname that he carries to this day, as he explained to FIFA.

“I started playing football rather than futsal and that’s where I got my nickname,” Duc Hoa explained. “When my team was attacking I used to keep the ball for a really long time even when my team-mates were open and calling for me to pass it.

“I was 13 at the time and because I couldn’t seemingly hear them, they started calling me deaf. I’ve decided to keep the name with me as a lesson to make sure I’m more of a team player.”

More than just a team player, Duc Hoa has made a seamless transition from football prodigy to futsal star. Now 32, he has a pair of FIFA Futsal World Cup™ appearances under his belt, a slew of individual honours, and is the Vietnamese captain as his nation gears up to feature in the AFC Futsal Asian Cup this month.

With the top four nations earning a ticket to the global finals in Uzbekistan later this year, Duc Hoa is determined to help Vietnam outrank their previous best showing at the continental championship: fourth in 2016.

“The goal is clear and that’s to get one of the tickets to the next World Cup, but we’re also aiming for our first medal at the Asian Cup,” Duc Hoa continued. “We know that in order to improve on that fourth-place finish from 2016 we will need some luck, but as the captain of the team I always believe and have full confidence in my team-mates.”

Under the guidance of Colombia 2016-winning coach Diego Giustozzi, Vietnam’s squad has undergone a transformation, while the domestic league has come on leaps and bounds. Duc Hoa, the reigning Vietnamese futsal player of the year, is optimistic that those changes will light the way for a brighter future in a nation where the sport is on the rise.

“Our national team squad has changed a lot this year and we now have a lot of young players competing for places,” he said. “Vietnamese futsal has also changed a lot. The league has a new format now where we play home and away matches and the season runs much longer than was previously the case. We also have foreign players in the league, so the development is really positive and I hope we can continue to build on that.”

At the core of that growth has been the tireless Duc Hoa, who started out as a talented midfielder in the 11-a-side game before developing into one of the finest wingers in south-east Asia.

Indeed, so promising was his football career that he played domestically in the second tier, and was part of the squad that finished as runners-up in the Vietnamese national U-21 championship in 2011 before everything changed.

“It’s true that I started playing outdoor football at a high level, but I stopped to come back and finish my studies at the Ho Chi Minh University of Sport before switching to futsal,” he explained. “There are some skills that are quite different between the two, but also some that are similar and that experience definitely helped me, especially in reading the play and understanding the opponent’s intention in each situation.”

From having first played the game in 2012, through to participating in his nation’s maiden Futsal World Cup just four years later, it has been a meteoric rise for a player who is now a seven-time Vietnam Futsal League champion.

A second Futsal World Cup appearance followed in 2021 where Vietnam again surprised many by progressing to the last 16, matching the feat they achieved five years earlier, where Duc Hoa was on target in a 3-2 loss against Russia. The year prior, the Ho Chi Minh-born player made history as the first Vietnamese to featured in a European league, representing Spanish outfit O Parrulo Ferrol.

The arrival of the COVID pandemic cut short that adventure as Duc Hoa found himself isolated in unfamiliar surroundings, but both the experience of a professional club career and Vietnam’s twin Futsal World Cup berths are memories that will stay with him forever.

“I think I’m so lucky to have played at two World Cups with Vietnam,” he said. “It’s so difficult to express the emotion that comes with that; it’s a competition that’s followed by futsal fans all over the world and the previous World Cup in Lithuania was so memorable as everyone tried their best to overcome the COVID pandemic and help the competition run successfully.

“I have to say that I’m also lucky to have had the opportunity to play professionally in Spain, but again COVID struck and the league was postponed and then cancelled. I stayed for two months in Spain where it was difficult as I didn’t know Spanish and only a few people could communicate in English. I received support though from my team-mates and the Vietnamese embassy, and they helped me to return to my family as quickly as possible.

“Looking back, though, I won’t ever forget that time, being so excited to play futsal in Spain, then being scared of the COVID situation and so lonely thinking of my family back in Vietnam.”

Turning 33 just five days before Vietnam’s Futsal Asian Cup opener against Myanmar, Duc Hoa knows that he’s in the twilight of his playing career. He is, however, ready for one last push in a tough group that contains an old friend before he sets his sights on a new career on the edge of the court.

“We will face Thailand at the Asian Cup with their coach Miguel Rodrigo, who was our coach before,” he said. “He’s a good coach, a friendly person and I’m sure that will be an exciting match against Thailand, but I hope that we win!

“In terms of what comes next, it’s always difficult to find time to relax away from the game, so I’m looking forward to spending time with my family and I also enjoy catching up and playing football with my old team-mates. I have a lot of interest in becoming a football or a futsal commentator, but I think I should learn and practice a lot before I can become professional.”

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