Bangkok: Viettel captain Bui Tien Dung says he looks forward to facing defending champions Ulsan Hyundai FC when the Vietnamese make their AFC Champions League debut against Korean giants Saturday.
After bouncing between the top two Vietnamese leagues for the past 15 years, Viettel was promoted to the top flight in 2018 and two years later was crowned champion of his country after finishing two points ahead of Hanoi FC.
The title saw the Hanoi-based club qualify directly for the group stage of the 2021 AFC Champions League, becoming the first Vietnamese team to enter the competition since Becamex Binh Duong in 2016.
And there might be few bigger introductions to the tournament than the opening against last year’s winners Ulsan Hyundai.
“It’s a really big challenge, especially in the first game,” admitted Tien Dung, whose team was also drawn alongside Thailand’s BG Pathum United and the winners of the play-off between China PR’s Shanghai SIPG and China PR. Kaya FC-Iloilo from the Philippines in Group F.
“I was very impressed with the quality of Ulsan Hyundai, and they have five players in the national team, so their strength is evident. We know we have to stay focused throughout if we are to stop their attacking players.
“However, facing such power gives us so much determination. I look forward to such a test and hope we can get a good result against the defending champions.”
The 25-year-old skipper Viettel started his career with the club and was part of the squad that was promoted to the elite in 2018 before ending Hanoi FC’s two-year reign in 2020.
And the timing couldn’t have been better as an expanded AFC Champions League group stage meant, for the first time since 2016, the Vietnamese champions secured direct entry into the competition.
“We had only been back in V.League 1 for two seasons when we won the title; no other Vietnamese team has achieved such a feat in over 10 years,” said Tien Dung.
“Every time we step onto the pitch we carry the Viettel spirit; our strength lies in our unity and discipline, and that has helped us get back to the top of Vietnamese football. It was a victory for the team and our big fans.
“Now we’re all very happy to be part of the AFC Champions League, not only because it’s our first time here, but also because we represent all of Vietnam.
“Our goal is to do the best we can in every game; we want to achieve as many ‘firsts’ as possible. Personally and as a captain, I want to keep our defensive line strong, keep as many sheets clean as possible. we can and, if possible, even score goals. “
While Viettel may not yet have made it to the AFC Champions League, Tien Dung has a lot of continental football experience in recent years as he has been a key part of the team’s rise. national.
The defender was in the squad which, alongside Nguyen Quang Hai and Nguyen Cong Phuong, reached the 2018 AFC U23 China Championship final to spark widespread celebrations in the Southeast Asian country as fans turned took to the streets by the thousands.
Later in the year, the Golden Stars won the AFF (ASEAN Football Federation) Cup before, in early 2019, he scored the winning penalty kick in the round of 16 against Jordan as Vietnam qualified for the quarter-finals of the 2019 AFC UAE Asian Cup.
“It was not only me who participated in the success of Vietnam, but also [teammates] Que Ngoc Hai, Nguyen Trong Hoang and Nguyen Hoang Duc, “Tien Dung said.
“Our personal experiences in Asian competitions will be very helpful, but what will help us succeed in the AFC Champions League is the strength and solidarity of the team. As captain, I want to share my experience with my teammates so that everyone can be confident. “
And Tien Dung has every reason to approach the competition with confidence as he recently returned from the United Arab Emirates, where two wins in three games saw Vietnam advance to the final round of the World Cup Qualifying. FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 for the very first time. time.
“Football in Vietnam is really progressing, the national team has reached the final round of the qualifiers and we are in 92nd place in the FIFA world rankings,” added Tien Dung, whose team also confirmed their place in the FIFA World Cup. AFC Asian Cup China 2023..
“We are making great strides to compete at continental and world level and in doing so we can learn more and become stronger. Our national championship is also improving and I hope to see more V.League clubs in the League. AFC champions in the future. “
Photos: Viettel FC