Huynh Nhu started playing soccer with a coconut-like fruit for a ball as a child. Now a member of the Vietnam national team, she will captain her team in a daunting opening game against the United States in the Women’s World Cup. (9 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app).

The match will mark a milestone for football in Vietnam, which is making its World Cup debut. A Vietnamese national team has never played in the men’s or women’s tournament.

Just making the field was an achievement. But now Vietnam, the 32nd-ranked women’s team in the world, faces the two-time defending champions of the tournament in their debut.

On paper, it seems like an incredible mismatch. Even so, Vietnamese coach Mai Duc Chung is determined to show what Vietnam can do on the world stage.

“We came here not just for tourism. We are here to play,” Mai said on Friday. “USA is a very, very strong team. It’s like a mountain, but that doesn’t mean we’ll give up. We’ll have very good tactics so we can minimize conceded goals.”

Vietnam qualified for the tournament via the Women’s Asian Cup last year. The Vietnamese were knocked out in the quarterfinals by China, putting them in a round-robin playoff. They then defeated Thailand and Taiwan. Both opponents were struggling with COVID-19 issues at the time.

“We will do our best to bring the image of Vietnam to the world,” Mai said. “I hope this trip will be an inspiration for the development of Vietnamese football in the future.”

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Soccer in Southeast Asia, especially women’s soccer, is underdeveloped compared to the world powerhouses of the sport. Vietnam’s first women’s national team was formed in 1997 and Huynh is the only player to compete outside of the country. She plays for Länk FC Vilaverdense of the most important soccer league in Portugal.

Before the start of the tournament, FIFA president Gianni Infantino said that every player who participates in the Women’s World Cup will walk away with at least $30,000 in prize money, a bonus in developed countries but a windfall for players from countries like Vietnam.

But Infantino said this week that he could not guarantee that the member federations will distribute the payments. He said that he is still working with the federations to make that happen.

Members of the Vietnam women’s national team can earn around $850 a month, or $10,200 a year, according to the New York Times,

“We received attention from the government, the sports ministry and relevant agencies,” Huynh said. “The standard of living has improved. We receive support from FIFA, so the conditions for Vietnamese players will improve. The amount is not small for us, particularly for the female players.”

Despite the increase in attention and pay, Vietnam players are trying to treat their first game like a normal match, intent on making their home country proud.

“I hope this tournament here will be an endless inspiration for the children of Vietnam, for the people of Vietnam,” Huynh said.

Associated Press report.

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