AFC U-17 Asian Cup: A guide to India’s opponents in Group D

BANGKOK, THAILAND: India’s campaign in the AFC U-17 Asian Cup will get underway in just two days, and the Blue Colts have now shifted base from the serene Khao Yai Sports Complex to the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, the capital of Thailand.

Coached by Bibiano Fernandes, the India U-17s have had a long and arduous preparation for the AFC U-17 Asian Cup, and are now set to take on Group D, where they will face Vietnam (June 17), Uzbekistan (June 20), and Japan (June 23). While the opponents may be tough, Bibiano’s boys look ready for the challenges ahead.

We take a look at the three opponents, and what they have to offer, as the clock winds down to the kickoff of Group D.

Vietnam: A disciplined unit

It was pure elation for India in the last edition of the tournament (back then known as the AFC U-16 Championship) in 2018, when Vikram Partap Singh converted an 86th minute penalty to hand India the lead and the match against Vietnam, which eventually helped them make it to the quarter-finals.

The Golden Star Warriors are a well disciplined unit that are known for their fast pace of play, and the technical ability and creativity to pass the ball around the opposition defenders.

They have also known to be solid at the back, having not conceded a single goal in their qualification campaign last year, where they faced Chinese Taipei (4-0), Nepal (5-0), and Thailand (3-0).

Captain Nguyen Cong Phuong is one of the key players of the Vietnam U-17 side, playing a pivotal role in the middle of the park, as he sits back to orchestrate the attacks for his team.

Uzbekistan: The familiar foes

Familiar foes Uzbekistan are strong contenders for the AFC U-17 Asian Cup. India have already played the Uzbekistan U-17s in two friendly matches in Goa, earlier this year; they one the first match 2-0 and lost the second one 0-3. Previously, the U-16 sides of the two nations also faced off in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in the AFC U-16 Championship Qualifiers in 2019, a match that ended 1-1 to help India qualify for the championship as the group toppers.

The White Wolves had an excellent qualification campaign last year, routing Brunei 14-0, before a last-minute goal helped them win 3-2 against the mighty Republic of Korea.

Captain Lazizbek Mirzaev is one of the players to watch out for, with the Uzbekistan U-17 side, as the attacking midfielder uses his technical ability and creativity to prise open opposition defence. Already playing in the Lokomotiv Tashkent senior side, Mirzaev is one of the most influential players for Uzbekistan.

Earlier this year, Uzbekistan U-17s where crowned champions of the Antalya Youth Cup in Turkey, where they have defeated teams like Morocco (2-1), the Czech Republic (1-0), and Australia (2-1). Ahead of the U-17 Asian Cup, they have played Malaysia once (3-2) and Yemen twice (5-1 and 2-0).

Japan: Out to defend their glory

Defending champions Japan are the most successful team in the AFC U-17 Asian Cup (previously known as the AFC U-16 Championship), having lifted the trophy on three occasions.

Japan finished top of their group in the AFC U-17 Asian Cup qualifiers, and even ended their qualification campaign without conceding any goals. Coached by Yoshiro Moriyama, the Samurai Blue have slightly altered their approach to the game this time around. While they still possess the ability to control possession of the ball, Japan have recently shown the propensity for quick transitions with two strikers playing up front.

Ahead of the AFC U-17 Asian Cup, Japan have played a tri-nation tournament in Algeria, where they faced the hosts (3-3), Mali (3-1), and Comoros (6-1). They also played the Copa Joaju last year, where they faced Chile (4-1), Colombia (0-1), and hosts Paraguay (3-3).

Homare Tokuda, who was their chief goalscorer last year is no more with the team, and the goalscoring responsibilities will fall on the shoulders of Yutaka Michiwaki and Rento Takaoka, who had scored four and three goals, respectively, in Algeria.

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