Hundreds of cheering Vietnamese football fans turned out to greet Arsenal on Monday as they became the first English Premier League club to visit the football-mad communist country.
The team arrived early Monday at Hanoi's Noi Bai airport and were greeted by Vietnam Football Federation officials, who presented them with traditional Vietnamese conical hats and bunches of lotus flowers. To the delight of fans and Vietnam's state-run press, the players and coach Arsene Wenger donned the hats and waved to supporters as their coach sped them through Hanoi.
"We are proud of becoming the first English football club to be in Vietnam, where Arsenal has a big number of fans," Wenger told reporters. "We will try to do our best for Vietnamese fans," he said.
Hundreds of fans in Arsenal shirts had been waiting at the airport since Sunday night, desperate to catch a glimpse of the players, state media reported. Fans sang Arsenal's song and cheered loudly as the players disembarked from their plane.
More fans turned up at their city-centre hotel but tight security kept them away from the team bus, state media said. Arsenal will play Vietnam's national team on Wednesday in the 40,000-seat My Dinh Stadium, a game which saw such high demand that fans queued overnight for tickets.
"I hope the match Wednesday evening will be interesting," Wenger said. Arsenal flew in from Jakarta, where they also received a rapturous reception and thumped the Indonesia Dream Team 7-0 in front of 50,000 fans late on Sunday.
After their three-day stay in Vietnam, they will head to Japan for two more friendlies, including one against Wenger's former club, Nagoya Grampus.