- AFC U-23 Championship set to take place in Thailand
- Sixteen teams from Asia will compete in Olympic qualifiers
- Three tickets to Tokyo 2020 on offer
Asia gets 2020 off with a bang with an enticing final qualification competition for the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Tokyo 2020, one of the most anticipated events in the year ahead. Sixteen teams full of some of the brightest young talent on the continent will compete over the next month for the prize of representing Asia on the global stage this summer.
FIFA.com previews the AFC U-23 Championship Thailand 2020, where three tickets to Tokyo 2020 will be up for grabs.
What you need to know
Tournament: AFC U-23 Championship Thailand 2020
When: 8-26 January 2020
Where: Bangkok, Buriram and Songkhla
What’s at stake: Three tickets to Tokyo 2020 – not including Japan, who have already qualified as hosts
Players to watch
A total of 368 players will be taking part, but there are a few in particular to keep your eye on. Supachai Chaided (pictured at top) will be one of hosts Thailand’s great hopes, as he has already registered goals for the seniors. Australia forward Al Hassan Toure helped Adelaide United win the FFA Cup in 2019 and will look to get the Olyroos back to the Olympics for the first time since 2008.
Bahrain’s Mohamed Hardan was a part of the team that won their first ever West Asian Football Federation Championship and Arabian Gulf Cup last year. There are also two players who were recognised as the best young players in their respective domestic leagues, recently. Japan midfielder Ao Tanaka of Kawasaki Frontale was named J.League rookie of the year and UAE midfielder Ali Saleh was named best young player in the UAE Arabian Gulf League.
Not all the players to watch are attackers, of course. Khojiakbar Alijonov is a senior team-calibre full-back who helped Uzbekistan win the title in 2018, albeit during a non-OIympic qualifying cycle. Korea Republic keeper Song Bumkeun comes from a long line of Jeonbuk Hyundai shot-stoppers, while IR Iran holding midfielder and captain Omid Noorakfan will anchor Team Melli — at 18 he became the youngest player to make a senior debut for Iranian giants Esteghlal back in 2015.
Storylines to follow
While teams like Japan, Korea Republic, Australia and IR Iran are used to qualifying for major international tournaments from the region, don’t sleep on the likes of dark horses Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Qatar, for example. The former two played in the AFC U-23 final, where Uzbekistan won dramatically 2-1 thanks to a winning goal in the last minute of extra time. These two teams in particular will be extremely motivated to book their nation’s first trip to the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament.
While the tournament is directly linked to the Olympics, there will also be significance to Qatar 2022 qualifying with some senior team coaches like Akira Nishino (Thailand), Graham Arnold (Australia), Hajime Moriyasu (Japan), Felix Sanchez (Qatar), to name a few, taking the reins to see which young players they can rely on moving forward.
Video Assistant Referees (VAR) will be used for first time at the AFC U-23 Championship, and it will be the first AFC competition to implement VAR for all 32 games.