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Rising stars – Nguyen Trong Hoang


14-Sep-2012
Continuing our series on the young players to look out for at the 2012 AFF Suzuki Cup, we turn the spotlight on Vietnamese forward Nguyen Trong Hoang.

When Le Cong Vinh left Song Lam Nghe An after the 2008 season to join Hanoi T&T in the most expensive transfer in Vietnamese football history, he left some big boots to fill at the Vinh Stadium.

However just three years later, his former club won the V-League title for the third time in their history thanks in no small part to the man who took over the no. 9 jersey from the departed striker.

With his stocky appearance, Nguyen Trong Hoang may not appear to be a player cut from the same mould as the elegant Cong Vinh, the poster boy of Vietnamese football whose legendary status was assured after he scored the decisive stoppage-time goal that won his country the 2008 AFF Suzuki Cup.

But the 23-year-old Trong Hoang, who stands just 1.7 metres tall, has established an excellent reputation of his own as a talented, hard-working and strong-running forward for his club and country.

Nicknamed ‘the Ox’ because of his excellent strength on the ball, he is able to hold off challenges well but also has a deft touch which allows him to deliver crosses with pin-point accuracy from his preferred position on the right flank. And although his strike rate may pale in comparison to the prolific Cong Vinh, he is also an excellent finisher.

Evidence of his fine goalscoring ability can be found in his first ever AFF Suzuki Cup goal, scored on his debut in the competition against Myanmar in 2010. Mere minutes after he had come on as a second-half substitute, he received the ball on the edge of the opposition box and took one touch to create space for himself before firing a low shot across goal and into the net.

Unusually for Trong Hoang, it was a strike with his left foot rather than his cultured right, which has produced a number of fine goals and assists for Vietnam and his hometown club, Song Lam, where he made his V-League debut as a teenager in 2007.

Identified as one of the Vietnam’s brightest young talents, he had missed out on a spot in the national Under-23 side for the 2007 South-East Asian Games because he was sitting for his high school final exams. However, he wasted no time showing his ability at Song Lam, as he quickly established himself on the right wing, from which he scored five goals and set up many more during his rookie season.

Cong Vinh’s departure for Hanoi T&T after the 2008 campaign helped to raise Trong Hoang’s profile on the Song Lam team as he assumed greater responsibility in their attack. He took full advantage of the opportunity and won Vietnam’s Young Player of the Year award in 2009 as Song Lam finished third in the V-League.

He was also a key player for the U-23s at the SEA Games in Laos that year as he helped his country to top their group ahead of Malaysia and reigning champions Thailand. Unfortunately for Vietnam, an injury ruled him out of the semi-finals and he was limited to a substitute appearance in the final, which the Vietnamese narrowly lost to Malaysia 1-0.

Trong Hoang continued his good form in 2010 as he helped Song Lam to win the Vietnamese National Cup before helping the U-23s to advance beyond the group stage of the Asian Games for the first time, as he was deployed as a playmaker and scored goals against Bahrain and Turkmenistan.

That earned him a call-up by national coach Henrique Calisto for Vietnam’s Suzuki Cup defence, which proved to be a tournament of highs and lows for the young forward.

He made a positive mark by scoring twice in a 7-1 demolition of Myanmar and playing a key role in the crucial 1-0 victory over Singapore, winning a 50-50 ball in his own half before playing a neat through pass from which Vietnam broke clear to score the winning goal.

But in that same match, he also showed the negative side of his physical approach with a studs-up challenge on Jumaat Jantan that earned him a red card and left his side to battle through the final 26 minutes with 10 men.

If there was any disappointment on the part of Trong Hoang, he quickly overcame that with an excellent 2011 season as he helped Song Lam to win the V-League title and also won the country’s ‘Silver Ball’ award.

While Cong Vinh has returned from the knee injury which kept him out of the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup, there still appears to be an assured place in coach Phan Thanh Hung’s line-up for Trong Hoang, who can play either as a withdrawn striker or on the right flank for his country. If there was any doubt whether he could play alongside Cong Vinh, he put that to rest by linking up well with ex-club teammate during Vietnam’s 2-0 win over Malaysia in an international in early September.

However, for all that he has accomplished at a young age, Trong Hoang retains a strong work ethic and firmly believes that there is still plenty of room for improvement in his game.

“I know that fitness and stamina are not enough in football,” he said in a recent interview. “It is good that you can shoot hard but you should also be accurate and sensational.

“That’s why I always train a lot on my own to improve my dribbling skill as well as passing. Another of my priorities is to improve my control of the ball under pressure from opponent.”