FIFA have hailed two nations from the just-concluded football Asian Cup for improving the most: champions Qatar and Vietnam.
"Qatar aside, it is perhaps Vietnam who made the most progress at UAE 2018," they said in a report.
Built around the team which finished runners-up at the AFC U23 Championship last year, "Vietnam constantly impressed both technically and tactically," FIFA said.
Vietnam play Japan at Asian Cup quarterfinals on January 24, 2018.
The report cited its nail-biting 0-1 loss against Japan in the quarterfinals. Japan scored off a penalty awarded from video replays.
"Japan needed all their know-how to earn a 1-0 quarter-final win," it said.
With the Philippines eliminated in the group stage and Thailand in the last 16, the Park Hang-seo-led Vietnam were the only Southeast Asian country to make it to the quarterfinals with a last-16 win over Jordan.
Vietnam are among several teams that "will likely look back on the tournament as a turning point," FIFA said.
Vietnam are now preparing for the inaugural AFF-EAFF Champions Trophy to be played in Hanoi in March. The ASEAN and East Asian federations agreed last December to have their respective champions compete for the biennial trophy.
No rest for Vietnamese football stars
After an incredible 2018, Vietnam’s footballers are set for another busy year with three key international tournaments. The first is the final round of the Asian Cup which will kick off on January 5 in the United Arab Emirates.
Prime Minister: Football inspires patriotism, national pride
Football has inspired patriotism and national pride, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said on December 21 when hosting the national football team and head coach Park Hang-seo who have just won the trophy of the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup 2018.