Ahead of the 2020 AFC U23 Championship, FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan picks eleven talented prospects to keep a close eye on over the next three weeks.
1) ZHANG YUNING (CHINA PR)
For someone who has experience playing in the Dutch Eredivisie and even earned a move to West Brom, although he failed to make a single appearance for the then-Premier League outfit, Zhang Yuning’s career has not exactly panned out the way it would have been expected for someone of his credentials.
Now back in his homeland with Beijing Guoan, the 22-year-old only netted eight goals in the Chinese Super League last season but his fortunes could easily change with an impressive showing at the AFC U23 Championship.
2) SUPHANAT MUEANTA (THAILAND)
Suphanat Mueanta has been no stranger catching the eye with his record-breaking ways despite his tender age, being the youngest player to ever score in Thai League 1 at the age of 15 and then memorably playing against opponents three years his senior at last year’s AFC U-19 Championship.
The Buriram United starlet, also the youngest scorer in AFC Champions League history, is set to be the youngest player at the upcoming AFC U23 Championship but should play an important role alongside older brother Supachok Sarachat and club team-mate Supachai Jaided in attack.
3) MOHAMED AL-SHAMSI (UNITED ARAB EMIRATES)
United Arab Emirates have had the fortune of boasting two very reliable goalkeeping options in Ali Khasif and Khalid Eisa for almost the past decade but, with both into their thirties now, the stage is set for a successor to arise and they have an excellent candidate in Mohamed Al-Shamsi.
The presence of Ali and Khalid means that he has not had a chance to be blooded at senior level, but the Al Wahda man has had his fair share of experience at club level and was arguably the best goalkeeper at Asian Games 2018, where UAE claimed the bronze medal.
4) DAIKI HASHIOKA (JAPAN)
Daiki Hashioka is an interesting prospect for Japan considering he is more of a recent bloomer having not been part of their recent age-group tournament teams, but emerged in 2019 as a player with much promise.
As part of the Urawa Red Diamonds side that reached the AFC Champions League final, Hashioka’s bombing runs down the right became a trademark for his team and he ended the year by winning his first two senior caps for the Samurai Blue at only 20.
5) ABDULRAHMAN GHAREEB (SAUDI ARABIA)
There currently is a wave of young talent in Saudi Arabian football largely from the side which emerged victorious at the 2018 AFC U19 Championship, and the likes of Firas Al-Buraikan, Khalid Al-Ghannam and Firas Tombakti will all get their chance to shine once more at the AFC U23 Championship.
However, it is Abdulrahman Ghareeb who is looming as their most-important player at the tournament considering he already has been exposed to senior football by both Al Ahli and Saudi Arabia, and has shown a penchant for delivering exciting moments of magic in the final third.
6) ABDELRAHMAN MOUSTAFA (QATAR)
This will be Abdelrahman Moustafa’s second AFC U23 Championship, having been part of the side that finished third after beating Korea Republic in the playoff back in 2018.
The past few years have seen Qatar really rise up on the continental stage but focus will now be on whether they can deliver a next generation of Akram Afifs and Almoez Alis – with Abdelrahman one of the brightest talents in the crop that will feature in Thailand over the next three weeks.
7) BOBIR ABDIXOLIKOV (UZBEKISTAN)
Uzbekistan captured the imagination in 2018 when they won the AFC U23 Championship and youngsters such as Odiljon Xamrobekov and Zabikhillo Urinboev immediately announced themselves as genuine prospects for the future.
A handful of players from that side remain eligible for this year’s edition but the one who arrives with the most intrigue is arguably Bobir Abdixolikov, who is likely to fill Xamrobekov’s void as the Uzbeks’ chief creative influence.
8) ALLAHYAR SAYYADMANESH (IRAN)
Still only 18, Allahyar Sayyadmanesh will be coming up against opponents five times older than him at the upcoming tournament but the proposition is unlikely to faze the forward – who is currently on the books of Turkish giants Fenerbahce but on loan to Istanbulspor.
Sayyadmanesh only had 15 games to his name when Fenerbahce were convinced to fork out $850,000 to land him and he made history last June when he became the youngest scorer in Iran national team history, scoring on his international debut in a 5-0 victory over Syria after coming on as a substitute.
9) JEONG WOO-YEONG (KOREA REPUBLIC)
There was always plenty of intrigue surrounding Jeong Woo-yeong considering he came through the youth system of German giants Bayern Munich, and even made two appearances for the first time in the Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League.
Last summer, Jeong made the decision to join fellow Bundesliga outfit Freiburg but Bayern retain the option to buy him back, and – with Valencia starlet Lee Kang-in absent – he is the sole Europe-based player at Korea Republic’s disposal.
10) HA DUC CHINH (VIETNAM)
Considering his burgeoning reputation in Asian football, Nguyen Quang Hai is bound to be the one Vietnam player most keenly watched but coach Park Hang-seo does have plenty of other talents at his disposal.
Vietnam’s ability to repeat their 2018 performance – where they reached the final – could depend on their firepower up front and the line will be lead by Ha Duc Chinh, the powerfully-built 22-year-old who just last year finished joint-top scorer in his team’s triumphant Southeast Asian Games campaign.
11) JACOB ITALIANO (AUSTRALIA)
Aside from plenty of Olyroos with senior experience at club level, Australia head into the AFC U23 Championship with a handful of foreign-based players that will be expected to lead the way in Thailand.
One of the more interesting options that have happens to be the youngest player of Graham Arnold’s 23-man squad in Jacob Italiano, who burst onto the scene last season as Perth Glory were crowned A-League premiers and earned a move to Bundesliga outfit Borussia Monchengladbach at the age of 18.