Ones to Watch: Nguyen Quang Hai (Vietnam)
Kuala Lumpur: Vietnam boast an exciting young crop of players that have excelled at youth levels in recent years, with gifted midfielder Nguyen Quang Hai arguably the biggest talent of the side heading to the United Arab Emirates.
The Southeast Asian nation had never previously qualified for the AFC Asian Cup, having appeared as co-hosts in 2007 (South Vietnam played in 1956 and 1960), but Quang Hai and his teammates have raised hopes that the current generation could go on to achieve something special.
Date of birth: 12/04/1997
Current club: Hanoi FC (Vietnam)
Previous club: Saigon FC (Vietnam)
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Quang Hai made his Vietnam debut in mid-2017 in the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 qualifier against Jordan that ended goalless, while his first goal proved to be decisive as it claimed all three points in a 2-1 victory over Cambodia in one of two wins during the final round of qualifying for the tournament.
The midfielder has been particularly impressive in youth competitions, helping his country reach the semi-finals of the 2016 AFC U-19 Championship in Bahrain, before being one of the stars of the tournament as Vietnam advanced all the way to the final of the AFC U23 Championship China 2018.
Then at the 2018 Asian Games, Quang Hai excelled once more, scoring the only goal of the game against Japan in the group stage as the Golden Stars went on to reach the semi-finals before elimination to eventual champions Korea Republic.
Style of play
A player who demands the ball, Quang Hai is composed in possession, aware of those around him and has the ability to pick out teammates in a way that few others can, while his superb touch often gives him an extra yard on opponents.
Naturally left footed, Quang Hai will often start on the left side but as the game develops he is likely to drift across the pitch. The 21-year-old is equally adept in the centre of the park, from where he can dictate the play as he looks to seek out those in front of him.
Set-pieces are his speciality, and expect to see sumptuous deliveries from either flank in the UAE. Opponents will be wary of any dead ball situation around the penalty area as that is Quang Hai territory – he has a history of finding the top corner.
What to look for
After such a strong year, Vietnam will go into the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 with the weight of expectation on their shoulders, meaning Quang Hai will have to handle a type of pressure he has perhaps yet to experience.
The midfielder has netted in crucial matches throughout 2018, notably in the semi-finals and final of the AFC U23 Championship, where his team’s performances saw fans take to the streets across Vietnam amid widespread celebrations.
An opening-day clash with Iraq could prove crucial before the Golden Stars take on Continental heavyweights the Islamic Republic of Iran and then round off the group stage against Yemen. Vietnam reached the knockout rounds in 2007 – they will aim to achieve at least the same in the UAE.
Where and when to watch him:
Vietnam vs Iraq Venue: Zayed Sports City Stadium, Abu Dhabi
Kick-off: January 8, 17:30 UTC+4
Vietnam vs Iran
Venue: Al Nahyan Stadium, Abu Dhabi
Kick-off: January 12, 15:00 UTC+4
Vietnam vs Yemen
Venue: Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, Al Ain
Kick-off: January 16, 20:00 UTC+4
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