Vietnam celebration frenzy

Hanoi - The chants of "Viet Nam Vo Dich" (Vietnam champions) started as soon as Le Cong Vinh scored late in the game with Thailand to earn the title in the South-East Asian championship (Suzuki Cup) on Sunday.

The 1-1 draw at My Dinh Stadium gave Vietnam a 3-2 aggregate win and set off riotous celebrations across the capital and country. Streets were gridlocked for hours with hundreds of thousands of motorbikes carrying young revelers clad in flags, red and gold headbands and other symbols of patriotic pride.

Conical hats painted with the national flag, usually the preserve of tourists, made an appearance, as did Vietnamese flag t-shirts. Streets were even busier than Christmas Eve, when Vietnam beat host nation Thailand 2-1 in the first leg of the final.

"This is the first time in 50 years! 50 years and now Vietnam is a champion!" yelled Dung, 26, from the tray of a Hyundai truck doing loops of central Hoan Kiem Lake and carrying some 50 cheering, flag-draped fans.

"Vietnam's a champion, so tickets are free tonight," laughed the driver, Tru.

"I'm so hot, but I'm going to keep wearing this because it's the only red thing I own," Linh, a 20-year-old student said of her winter coat.

Balanced precariously atop the roof rack of a four-wheel-drive, she was sharing flag waving duties with several similarly daring friends.

"My heart exploded when we went into overtime, I wanted to cry."

Even babies got into the spirit of things, with mothers carefully tying bandanas around their heads and sticking flag stickers on their cheeks. Tradition mingled with the modern age as paper lanterns (den troi) were lit and floated over the lake, and red, barrel-shaped 'trong' drums led crowds in chants. As on Christmas Eve, Vietnamese ingenuity was on display, with anything used as an instrument, such as plastic water bottles, or trays and chopsticks.

Local media reported some 100 traffic accidents in Hanoi but the city's Viet Duc Hospital did not report an increase in injuries post-game, despite widespread disregard for the year-old helmet law.

"I don't care about that tonight. There are too many people for the police to stop," said Tuan, 23, an architecture student.

Others seemed more focused on escaping the raucous gridlock to race their motorbikes, usually Honda Wave 100CC scooters, rarely capable of speeds above 100 kilomtres per hour.

"I used to race a lot, but I don't anymore. I will tonight though. Vietnam is number one!" Dung, a 21-year-old student said, sitting astride his idling bike by a corner of the lake.

Though still low-ranked in the football world, Vietnam has long had a love of the game.

Many can name most Premier League players and follow the English games closely. Such devotion took an unfortunate turn in 2006 when it was found party officials had gambled 2 million dollars worth of foreign donor money on Manchester United games in what became known as the PMU-18 scandal.

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