by Tao Jun, Bui Long
HANOI, Jan. 24 (Xinhua) -- After Vietnam defeated Qatar on Tuesday to advance to the AFC U23 Championship final in China, throngs of Vietnamese people, including a deputy prime minister, took to the streets across the country waving red national flags, turning citie downtowns into seas of red.
After goalkeeper Bui Tien Dung spectacularly saved two penalties, helping his squad beat Qatar 4-3 in a penalty shootout after a thrilling 2-2 draw at the end of extra-time, dozens of customers in Maxx Cafe on Dien Bien Phu Street, in the capital city of Hanoi, jumped with joy and clapped tirelessly.
"Thanks to this semifinal match (between Vietnam and Qatar), the number of customers coming to my café to watch the game and drink coffee or smoothies was about ten times more than on ordinary days. All of us are now in seventh heaven," the cafe's owner Nguyen Thi Thanh Son told Xinhua just after the final whistle, pointing to all her customers excitedly standing on the pavement.
Among her customers, a young couple seemed unable to control their giddy excitement, locking lips with each other passionately, which is rarely seen on other occasions, as kissing in public places in Vietnam is still considered a taboo.
Leaving the cafe, the couple rode a scooter towards the city's downtown area along with many other local young people. They stopped on Hai Ba Trung Street, bought stickers of the national flag to stick on their cheeks, and waved a national flag.
"Within minutes, I sold about 30 flags for between 50,000-70,000 Vietnamese dong (2.2-3.1 U.S. dollars) per flag," a local student told Xinhua Tuesday afternoon.
"The breathtaking victory of Vietnam's U23 squad today has offered us a good chance to make some easy money. Everyone is being really generous and seem too excited to bargain," the student said.
"The money I've made from selling flags in a single day equals the wages I earn from working in a restaurant for the whole month," the student beamed.
Around 15 minutes after the semifinal match, all streets and roads leading to the downtown area became more and more congested. Streets around the Sword Lake, Hanoi's heart, were full of people on bikes or in pickup trucks and pedestrians, most of them either wrapped in a national flag or waving one.
Many motorbike riders and pedestrians were "high-fiving" each other and lines of foreign visitors on the pavements were high-fiving local bikers on the streets.
"Vietnam's men's football teams have never won a gold medal in the Southeast Asian Games. Now, its U23 squad has just gained a berth to an Asian tournament final. So I understand why Vietnamese people are flocking downtown to celebrate the unprecedented victory. I must say Vietnamese people are the craziest football fans in the world," Willem Janssen, a visitor from the Netherlands, told Xinhua on Tuesday evening, after high-fiving many locals while walking around the Sword Lake.
The visitor pointed to the crowd full of red flags and red T-shirts, his voice barely audible above all the noise. As well blaring music, people were banging drums and gongs and honking horns and using frying pans, pots and children's toys as impromptu musical instruments.
On Tuesday evening, the downtown area became increasingly crowded and noisy. Groups of fans were shouting: "Vietnam!" or "Vietnam, champion!" Traffic on some streets was paralyzed for a long time.
At around 9:00 p.m. local time, wearing a helmet and a red jacket, Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam rode a red motorbike to the downtown area around the lake. Getting off the motorbike, he took off the jacket to reveal a red T-shirt with a yellow star on the front, and waved a big red flag like many other Vietnamese fans.
In the evening, the Vietnamese State President's Office proposed relevant agencies complete necessary procedures for the president to decide to offer a state award, possibly a Labor Order, to the U23 squad.
Meanwhile, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc congratulated the U23 team and its South Korean coach Park Hang-seo.
In his phone call to the Secretary General of the Vietnam Football Federation, Le Hoai Anh, who is now in China, the prime minister affirmed that the team's victory was a significant event for Vietnam and would be remembered in the country's sporting history.
The prime minister assigned the Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Nguyen Ngoc Thien to reward the football team and coach Park Hang-seo.
The ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Football Federation and national football federations of other ASEAN countries have been sending the Vietnam Football Federation congratulatory messages.
"They were happy because Vietnam's U23 team has made other regions in the world come to respect Southeast Asian football," said the Vietnam Football Federation's Vice Chairman Tran Quoc Tuan.
Tuan said many companies in Vietnam by Tuesday evening had pledged to offer the U23 squad rewards of at least 15 billion Vietnamese dong (663,000 U.S. dollars).
Vietnamese budget carrier VietJet announced it would paint the squad's players on its planes.
Before the start of the Asian Football Confederation U23 Championship, Vietnam was considered an underdog and likely to be eliminated in the qualifying round. But the team has now become the pride of Southeast Asian football after becoming the first team in the region to compete in an AFC U23 Championship final.
Vietnam's U23 team will face Uzbekistan in the final on Saturday afternoon.
Early Wednesday morning, scores of Vietnamese people, mostly youths, still gathered in downtown areas of big cities such as Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang and Can Tho.
Without wearing helmets they sped their bikes along streets, waving national flags and shouting "Vietnam, Champion!" while traffic and mobile policemen smiled on empathetically, rather than fining them as usual.