HUNG YEN, Vietnam: After a career that began in instant noodles, Vietnam’s richest man knows all about long shots, and now he’s taking another: trying to get the football-mad country’s national team to their first World Cup.
No Southeast Asian team has played on football’s biggest stage, but Pham Nhat Vuong – CEO of the Vingroup conglomerate, and Vietnam’s first billionaire – has not let that deter him.
Vingroup’s gleaming, US$15 million academy outside Hanoi has already helped Vietnam become a growing power in Asian football, after they reached the Asian Cup quarter-finals last year.
The communist country’s national team were crowned Southeast Asian champions in 2018, and their Under-22s won gold at the Southeast Asian Games last December.
The Golden Star Warriors also sit top of their World Cup qualifying group, but they still have work to do if they are to grab one of Asia’s four slots – or a fifth available through playoffs – for 2022.
However, they can take heart from the example of World Cup hosts Qatar who, after building a state-of-the-art academy and drafting in foreign expertise, swept to their first Asian Cup title last year.