This year's AFC U-17 Championship is just around the corner as the opening match of the competition kicks off on Sunday 3 September. Hosts Singapore will play two-time champions Korea Republic in Jalan Besar Stadium.
However, the South Koreans, who recently won the Toyota International Youth Football Championship by beating Japan on penalties, are taking nothing for granted ahead of the game. "We don't have enough information about Singapore," said coach Park Kyung-Hoon. "We are presuming that they are slightly weaker than us at this level, but we should not underestimate them because anything can happen in football. Besides, the Singaporeans have the home advantage so we have to be well prepared."
Another Group A fixture on the opening day is the match between the 1994 winners Japan and Nepal, the side who qualified for the finals ahead of central Asian powerhouse Uzbekistan. Japan coach Hiroshi Jofuku has placed a major emphasis on team unity ahead of the competition, as he feels it could be the difference between winning and losing. "I think the key to international football is how much football we play and which players click under high pressure in this tournament," he said. "We will have to concentrate hard in order to play as a team in the AFC U-17 Championship."
Pulod Kodirov, the coach of the Tajikistan team, feels that he is going into the competition not knowing entirely what to expect. "We have little information about our opponents," he admitted. "There is very little data, so little that we are not able to form any picture of they style of play and what tactics we have to employ. My main stress was on raising the physical levels as the players come from different clubs. The competition to make the first team is tough Our objective is to make the quarter- finals. If we are able to make use of our physical conditions, I think, we can beat not only the Iranians, but Iraq and Yemen too."
The Iranians, who reached the semi-finalists two years ago, are looking forward to the kick-off after a morale-boosting 6-0 victory against the Singapore U-19 team on Sunday. "My players are completely ready after the win," said coach Mohamed Ahmadzade. "We are just waiting for the tournament to kick off to show our strength. My players are very strong in attacking and scoring goals. I believe in them. We came to Singapore a week earlier to train and acclimatise ourselves. Our target is to qualify for the finals."
Tough start for DPR Korea
Group C favourites and runners-up of the last tournament, DPR Korea will hope to impress when they face the two-time champions Saudi Arabia on Monday. The Saudis warmed up for the encounter with a recent 3-1 win against Nepal.
Myanmar, the winners of the ASEAN Football Federation U-17 Championship last year, were initially scheduled to play against Laos on the same day. Laos, however, have been provisionally suspended from all youth competitions for fielding an ineligible player in the AFC U-13 Festival of Football in 2005. As a result the group will have only three teams.
The top two teams from each group will advance to the quarter-finals, which will be played on Monday 11 September. The semi-finalists will automatically qualify for next year's 2007 FIFA U-17 World Cup in the Korea Republic. In the event of next year's host nation reaching the last four, the match for third place will be replaced with a play-off involving the two best losers from the quarter-final stage. The final will be played in the Jalan Besar Stadium on Sunday 17 September.
AFC U-17 Championship
Singapore, 3-17 September 2006