The Laotian Times interviews Mr. Michael Weiss, coach of the U-19 Lao national men’s football team, about the tactics and techniques that led the team to its final match against Malaysia in the AFF U-19 Youth Championship in Indonesia.
In a true tale of the underdogs that shook regional football, young players from Laos burned through every opponent in an uninterrupted hot streak. One by one, their opponents fell; Timor Leste, Singapore, Cambodia, and Malaysia.
But according to Coach Michael Weiss, despite their historic victory over Thailand, the U-19 team’s journey to the final match was not without obstacles.
“We did not have a lot of time to prepare for this tournament because many of the players were also engaged in league games. The clubs did not want to release them, so some of them arrived for training quite late,” says Weiss.
He noted that the team, who were certainly not without skill, also had luck on their side. In some cases, Laos was granted an early lead due to missed opportunities by opposing teams.
When Laos first scored 1-0 against Thailand, a photo of Weiss looking on and clutching a metal pole in anticipation quickly went viral on Lao social media.
“I didn’t know [about this],” he laughed. “I was just resting a little bit because of the demands… this pole, I could just lean on it, like a friend. I was watching the game at the time. I don’t really remember who took this photo,” the coach explained.
The euphoric victory against Thailand was already a game for the record books, but the final against Malaysia drew crowds at home like never before. Suddenly, the whole country was backing the team, with Deputy Prime Minister Kikeo Khaikhamphitoun even delivering a rousing speech of encouragement on television.
Fans took to the streets on the night of the match, and Lao Brewery Co arranged for a last-minute broadcast direct from Indonesia with Lao commentary.
In the final matchup between Laos and Malaysia, wet weather played a role in affording both advantages and disadvantages to both teams.
Weiss accepts that playing without metal-studded football shoes on that particular day was a slight disadvantage for Laos, but another factor contributing to the loss was that the Malaysian players were undeniably more mature and physically stronger than Laos’ U-19 players.
“We were really fighting for the tournament and I’m happy that we made it that far. But I think, in terms of Lao football, the best has really yet to come. And with more support from the Lao Football Federation and hopefully the government and the private sector, it could go much farther,” he said.
For Weiss, football should involve both winning and losing. He believes, however, that Lao football players need more support. To ensure the sport not only attracts but keeps the best players, they must be provided with more benefits. They need a salary to live on so they can pursue a career in the sport.
With only six months of preparation, the talented young Lao players were able to make it to the final match, far exceeding expectations. And the guidance and expertise of their coaching staff was one factor that helped get them there.
Although the surprising winning streak came after years of losses, the coach doesn’t see himself as single-handedly responsible for the U19 team’s success. A modest man, he says that all involved – including technical staff, managers, assistant coaches, and others – played a part in the team’s success.
“Lao football players show tremendous talent, agility, and speed,” says Weiss. “I just hope that in the future they could have more time to prepare.”
He says this as he alludes to the upcoming AFC U-20 Asian Cup which will take place in September this year for Laos, giving the U-20 Lao football team just a short period to prepare.
The Lao national football teams also hope to advance and qualify for the second round of the 2023 World Cup qualifiers and the upcoming Cambodia South East Asia Games with U-19 and U-23 football players.
Weiss has been impressed by the outpouring of support from Laos and its people, and hopes to see more Lao football fans at upcoming home matches.
“I want to thank all the people of Laos for their fantastic support, going to see the game and supporting virtual screens and public viewings. I have received many nice messages,” he said, expressing his gratitude.
Weiss says he hopes that Lao football fans will continue to follow and attend matches in greater numbers in future, because filling the stadium with encouraging cheers is the best motivation for the players.