Ones To Watch: Group D
Kuala Lumpur: A forward who’s shining for the Golden Stars, an Emirati and Korean full of promise and a goalkeeper poised to one day take over from the legendary Amer Shafi, Group D will have bags of potential on display at the AFC U23 Championship Thailand 2020.
While Vietnam will start the campaign as favourites, there’s plenty to suggest talented Jordan, United Arab Emirates and DPR Korea sides can challenge the Southeast Asians in what looks an intriguing group.
As the four sides chase two knockout round qualification spots, here’s the-AFC.com’s pick of the players to look out for.
Nguyen Tien Linh
While the talk around Vietnam often centres on Nguyen Quang Hai, there is an array of young talent currently representing the Golden Stars, with Nguyen Tien Linh another of the U23 side who has already excelled at senior level.
The Becamex Binh Duong forward appeared at the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 before being amongst the goals as his club side reached the AFC Cup knockout rounds. The highlight of his year, though, was a stunning match-winning strike from distance against the United Arab Emirates in the Asian Qualifiers.
DPR Korea, Midfielder
Ri Yong-gwon played the captain’s role to perfection as DPR Korea saw off stiff opposition to emerge top in Group G of the Qualifiers.
The East Asians will be hoping for more of the same from the Hwaebul FC midfielder in their attempt to navigate past the group stage.
Abdallah Al Fakhouri
Having been part of Jordan’s youth set-up since the U-14 age group, Abdallah Al Fakhouri is no stranger to national team competitions and the Al Wehdat ‘keeper also excelled in helping his club side reach the AFC Cup knockout rounds earlier in the year.
Incredibly, Al Fakhouri is a little over half the age of the legendary Jordan goalkeeper Amer Shafi, who continues to hold on to the number one jersey. But if the youngster continues to perform at his current level, the West Asian nation will have reason to believe there is a suitable replacement when the incumbent custodian finally hangs up his gloves.
United Arab Emirates, Forward
Voted the UAE’s best young player for the 2018-19 league season, Ali Saleh, who turns 20 at the end of January, has already been tipped as one of the top 10 people, let alone footballers, who could help shape the region over the next decade by Esquire Middle East.
The youngest-ever player in the UAE Pro League, the skillful young midfielder models himself on Cristiano Ronaldo and has already made his debut for the senior national side. Will he realise his potential at Thailand 2020?