Vietnam coach Alfred Riedl’s response to being called a national hero is brutally honest: “I couldn’t give a monkey’s!”
The Austrian was a little over 10 minutes away from going down in Vietnamese folklore before Qatar rescued a 1-1 draw in Thursday’s Asian Cup Group B game in Hanoi.
Co-hosts Vietnam, playing in the tournament for the first time in 47 years, lead the group on four points after the draw and their 2-0 upset of United Arab Emirates in their opening match.
But Riedl refuses point-blank to buy into the hysteria — even if they go on to clinch an historic spot in the last eight.
“I couldn’t give a monkey’s whether I become a national hero or not,” the 47-year-old told Reuters in an interview on Friday.
“It’s completely silly. My players went to the limit last night. They showed no fear against a physically stronger side and played through cramp. I’m proud of them for that.”
Riedl added: “You don’t factor in things like being a national hero as a coach. You just do your job and hope things go well. Yesterday we got a good point against a stronger team.”
Vietnam are making their first appearance in the Asian Cup since a side from the south of the country lost all three games in the 1960 competition.
Riedl’s assessment of their chances of progressing to the quarter-finals for the first time was typically frank.
“Put it this way: I don’t expect us to thrash Japan on Monday!” smiled Riedl, who is in his third spell as coach of the Southeast Asian nation.
“You have to assume we’ll lose. We will do everything to try to get a result but it might not be enough.”
By Riedl’s calculations Vietnam would still have a decent chance of advancing even if they fail to secure another surprise result against holders Japan, who play UAE later on Friday.
“Our chances look alright — if Qatar don’t beat UAE (on Monday). I don’t expect UAE to beat Japan tonight because Japan need to win after drawing their first game.
“If Japan win today and if Qatar don’t win on Monday, then everything is fine.”
Riedl’s young Vietnam side have been a revelation at the Asian Cup, which the country is staging jointly with Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. A pinch of luck has not hurt either.
“Qatar had to take risks and threw everything at us in the last 20 minutes,” Riedl said.
“We were lucky only to concede one. But we dug in and worked hard for our luck.
“You’re talking about players who in the (Vietnamese) V-League play like they’re on the streets. We ran out of steam at the end but the players gave absolutely everything.
“They broke the pain barrier for Vietnam and were rewarded with a result yesterday — maybe we will have the same luck against Japan!”