Vietnam retain Southeast Asian Games gold medal against Thailand to prove they are still force to be reckoned with

Even at the simplest level, it was a victory with plenty of significance.

With a 1-0 victory over Thailand at My Dinh National Stadium on Sunday -- courtesy of sumptuous 83rd-minute header from Nham Manh Dung -- Vietnam claimed back-to-back gold medals in the Southeast Asian Games men's football tournament.

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It was only their second triumph since breaking their gold-medal duck in 2019, and also denied the Thais a record-extending 17th crown.

That in itself was achievement enough. But the success will mean so much more.

After all, this is a Vietnam outfit that had risen to the pinnacle of Southeast Asian football over the past few years only to have their credentials questioned of late.

Following a fourth-place finish at the Asian Games and an AFF Suzuki Cup triumph in 2018 that preceded a quarterfinal run at the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, Vietnam were the undisputed powerhouses in ASEAN -- until they relinquished their continental crown to the Thais at the start of the year.

In the recently-concluded third round of the Asian qualifiers for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Vietnam were the only Southeast Asian representatives out of only 12 teams.

Yet, after just one win in ten matches -- hardly an embarrassing record considering they were up against continental heavyweights like Saudi Arabia, Japan and Australia -- the critics were out in full force.

Now, after a near-immaculate SEA Games campaign, where they racked up five wins and a draw without conceding a single goal, the Vietnamese have certainly delivered a statement that they not going away anytime soon.

The triumph was typical of the football that has become synonymous with Vietnam under Park Hang-seo - with organisation and efficiency the hallmarks of the game plan.

Nonetheless, perhaps the most impressive aspect of their gold medal-winning efforts is that it was down with a new generation of prospects and not the golden generation that has fuelled much of Vietnam's recent success.

Granted, the three overage players present -- Do Hung Dung, Nguyen Tien Linh and Nguyen Hoang Duc -- did play key roles throughout the tournament, but the new wave also took their opportunity to shine.

Le Van Do has been a constant revelation in his rampaging wing-back role, goalkeeper Nguyen Van Toan was a constant reassuring presence, while others like Manh Dung, Bui Hoang Viet Anh, Phan Tuan Tai and Ho Thanh Minh showed enough to suggest they could play a role at senior level eventually.

And with the next Suzuki Cup not far off, Vietnam will get the chance to reclaim their status as kings of Southeast Asian football -- not just at U-23 level but also on the senior stage.

For now at least, with their second consecutive SEA Games gold medal, they have proven they are not going away anytime soon.