'Asian Hiddink' sparks rare success for Southeast Asian team

Published 10:14 p.m. ET Jan. 21, 2018

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Southeast Asian soccer is making positive news for a change with historic performances at the continental under-23 championships, spearheaded by a coach nick-named “The Asian Hiddink.”

Vietnam head coach Park Hang-seo is the toast of the country after leading the team to the semifinals. Park was a member of Guus Hiddink’s coaching staff when South Korea reached the 2002 World Cup semifinals — a run that had millions of Koreans gathering in the streets to support the national team’s progress in the tournament it was co-hosting with Japan.

On Saturday it was the turn of Vietnam fans to celebrate in the streets and plazas after a famous quarterfinal win over Iraq. From the country’s ubiquitous scooter riders waving flags to Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, there were hearty congratulations for the team.

“I have always believed that the players had the talent,” Park, who burst into tears after the successful penalty shootout that followed a dramatic 3-3 draw, told reporters. “They needed a lift and the belief they can win against teams like Iraq. Now we have to keep going.”

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