Continental glory, Tokyo berth up for grabs - GulfToday

Continental glory, Tokyo berth up for grabs

Continental glory, Tokyo berth up for grabs

Uzbekistan players attend a training session on Tuesday.

Bangkok: Asia’s rising stars will look to clinch both continental glory and qualification for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games when the AFC U23 Championship begins in Thailand on Wednesday.

A total of 16 teams will look to succeed Uzbekistan following their 2-1 triumph over Vietnam two years ago.

The tournament offers a chance to see stars in the making - the players who will be looking to earn their places in the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and the AFC Asian Cup China 2023, as well as this summer’s Olympic Games, which returns to Japan.

The action starts on Wednesday in Group A where Thailand, with former Japan head coach Akira Nishino in charge, will look to make the most of the home support as they bid to progress.

Thailand have been drawn alongside Australia, Bahrain and U-23 heavyweights Iraq, who claimed the title in 2013 and finished third three years later.

Group B features a Qatar side — under the guidance of 2019 AFC Asian Cup winner Felix Sanchez – who are eager to improve on their U23 2018 performance when, with Almoez Ali and Akram Afif to the fore, beat South Korea to finish third. Al Annabi will have 2016 title winners Japan and the West Asian duo of Saudi Arabia and Syria for company.

Ljubinko Drulovic’s reigning champions Uzbekistan begin their title defence in Group C where, alongside 2016 runners-up South Korea, China and the Iran, they will attempt to become the first team to retain the title.

In the other action, Vietnam, whose journey to the 2018 final was no less than remarkable, feature in a tough looking Group D that will also have North Korea, Jordan and the UAE vying to go through to the quarter-finals.

The competition runs from Jan.8 until 26, 2020 with the Video Assistant Referee system (VAR) being used throughout, the teams finishing first and second in each of the four groups will progress into the knockout phase from where the top three sides are guaranteed spots at this year’s Olympic Games.

The matches are scheduled to be played at four venues in Thailand, namely Bangkok’s iconic Rajamangala Stadium – which will play host to the final – the Thammasat Stadium in Pathum Thani, Songkhla’s Tinsulanon Stadium and the Buriram Stadium.

The three previous editions of the tournament have all featured players who have subsequently developed into key performers for both club and country. Players such as Japanese ace Shoya Nakajima, Iranian goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand and Thai dynamo Chanathip Songkrasin have all gone on to become superstars of Asian football after gracing the AFC U23 Championship.

This time, and with dual targets in their sights, there promises to be yet more drama in store for Asia’s next generation of stars as they seek to etch their own names in the history books.

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