With the 2020 AFC U23 Championship up and running, FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan picks eight standouts from Match Day 1.
The wait is over as the 2020 AFC U23 Championship got underway on Wednesday.
As the highest-level of the Asian Football Confederation’s age-group tournaments, the competition offers plenty of prestige but this edition also comes with the added prize of 2020 Olympic Games berths up for grabs.
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It’s crunch time for all 16 teams as the second round of group stage gets underway later today… ⚔ . . #asianfootball #afcu23 #afcu23championship #thailand #iraq #australia #bahrain #qatar #japan #saudiarabia #syria #uzbekistan #southkorea #china #iran #vietnam #northkorea #jordan #uae
Over the past three days, there were handsome wins and unexpected upsets and expect more of the same as Asia’s 16 best Under-23 sides do battle over the next three weeks.
While there were plenty who caught the eye, here are FOX Sports Asia’s Top 8 from Match Day 1.
1) THOMAS DENG (AUSTRALIA)
Now into his fifth season with A-League giants Melbourne Victory, Thomas Deng has plenty of experience to call upon – including from last year when he came up against some of the continent’s best attackers in the AFC Champions League.
Although he was exposed at that level on certain occasions, he seems to have gained some valuable lessons as he played with plenty of confidence at centre-back in the Olyroos’ 1-1 draw with Iraq.
2) SUPHANAT MUEANTA (THAILAND)
Hosts Thailand could not have asked for a better start as they thrashed Bahrain 5-0 and Suphanat Mueanta weighed in with two goals, as he proved irresistible along with older brother Supachok Sarachat.
Take a bow!
— FOX Sports LIVE! (@FSAsiaLive) January 8, 2020
Still only 17, the future looks bright for a prodigious talent who can now lay claim to being the youngest player to score in Thai League 1, AFC Champions League and AFC U23 Championship history.
3) KAMEL KOAEH (SYRIA)
Seemingly dead and buried as they trailed as they trailed Qatar by two goals after just 22 minutes, Syria somehow pulled off an almighty comeback to salvage a 2-2 draw.
Kamel Koaeh was a constant outlet for the Syrians down the left with his skill and delivery but is also a real asset from set-pieces, as it was his tantalising delivery that led to Abd Al-Rahman Barakat pulling one back in the 31st minute and igniting the revival.
4) ALLAHYAR SAYYADMANESH (IRAN)
Being on the books of Turkish giants while still only 18 meant that Allahyar Sayyadmanesh came into the tournament with plenty of attention on him, and he got his campaign off to a steady if unspectacular start in Thursday’s 1-1 draw with Uzbekistan.
Sayyadmanesh offered a strong focal point in the Iran attack in the first half but, as the game wore on and with his side searching for an equaliser, took the initiative to drift out wide to find more space and bring others into play.
5) DUAN LIUYU (CHINA PR)
Although China PR fell to a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Korea Republic, they showed plenty of endeavour and one man who led the way was Duan Liuyu.
Playing in a more advanced role than he is usually accustomed to, Duan was the first line of defence for the Chinese as he tirelessly pressed the opposition defenders high up the field while also looking creative in possession when he had the ball, and he may have to play a more pivotal role now that Zhang Yuning has been ruled out for the rest of the tournament with injury.
Late drama seemed to be the trend of the day ⏰ at #AFCU23
Qatar U23🇶🇦 🆚 Syria U23🇸🇾 ending in a draw earlier in the day with a late equaliser by Ahmad Dali 🇸🇾⚽ and Saudi Arabia U23🇸🇦 go 🔝 of the table courtesy a penalty strike 🎯 by Abdulrahman Ghareeb 🤙🏽 pic.twitter.com/HpkUv6hjJQ
— #AFCU23 (@theafcdotcom) January 9, 2020
6) ABDULRAHMAN GHAREEB (SAUDI ARABIA)
Abdulrahman Ghareeb is one of Saudi Arabia’s most highly-rated prospects and it is easy to see why from the way he inspired Saudi Arabia to a shock 2-1 win over Japan.
The Al Ahli attacker – who scored a stunner in last season’s Champions League – created Ayman Al-Khulaif’s opener with a delightful charge through the middle before keeping his cool to clinically convert from the penalty spot for the winner with just two minutes left on the clock.
AFC U23 Championship Highlights – Japan vs Saudi Arabia
7) KEISUKE OSAKO (JAPAN)
Although Japan entered Thursday evening’s game against Saudi Arabia as favourites, they could have been well out of the contest by halftime were if not for the heroics of goalkeeper Keisuke Osako.
He may only be 20 but Osako has already featured regularly in the J1 League for Sanfrecce Hiroshima, and his best save came in the 29th minute when he somehow pushed away Ghareeb’s deflected drive in midair while diving in the opposition direction.
8) MOHAMMAD BANI ATIEH (JORDAN)
Jordan caused quite a stir at the AFC Asian Cup last year when they finished top of their group ahead of the likes of Australia and Syria, and their Under-23s look like they could certainly do the same in Thailand 12 months on.
They were impressive in Friday’s 2-1 win over DPR Korea and had contributors all over the park, although Mohammad Bani Atieh caught the eye in particular with his composure in possession and ability to deliver a telling pass to his team-mates.