Asian contenders begin bid for Poland
Sixteen teams vie for four qualifying spots in Asia
Korea Republic are historically the most accomplished side
Japan aim to defend title in Indonesia
With the FIFA U-20 World Cup Poland 2019 scheduled for May, Asia's top teams begin their bid for the global showpiece as the 2018 AFC U-19 Championship opens on Thursday in Indonesia. The tournament, which runs across 17 days until 4 November, will see 16 teams contest for the four qualifying spots on offer.
Holders Japan enter the campaign aiming not only to secure a spot at Poland 2019, but also to retain the title. East Asian rivals Korea Republic, for their part, are aiming to lift the trophy for a record 13th time.
Boosted by their history-making qualification for Korea Republic 2017, Vietnam will hope to emulate that feat. Australia, meanwhile, enter the competition seeking to seal their return to the global competition having missed out on the past two editions.
Also hopeful of earning a ticket to the U-20 World Cup are Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Korea DPR, all of whom are among the tournament's most successful sides. Despite their failure in the past five qualifying campaigns, China PR arrive in Jakarta determined to mount a serious challenge for the championship.
Players to watch Japan attacker Takefusa Kubo is among the players to watch having played at Korea Republic 2017. Known for his attacking flair as well as finishing ability, the former Barcelona player is capable of causing headaches for any defence. Shouldering the goalscoring tasks for Korea Republic is Cho Youngwook, who also featured at the last U-20 World Cup during which his side reached the second round as hosts. The teenager finished as the top-scorer in the tournament qualification with six goals.
Elsewhere, Moudi Najjar is likely to spearhead the attacking-line for Australia considering his prolific form. The Melbourne City striker scored 19 goals for his club's youth team last year and was part of the club’s Y-League championship winning side. China's Liu Ruofan is, too, among the tournament's hottest prospects having already played for Shanghai Shenhua in the Chinese Super League. He struck four times during qualification as China booked progression to the continental finals.
Stats 2 - Qatar and Japan are the most accomplished Asian sides at the U-20 World Cup with each boasting a second-place finish. The former came from nowhere to storm to the final at Australia 1981 with the latter following suit at Nigeria 1999.
15 - Among the contenders, Australia are the most experienced at global level having featured in 15 U-20 World Cups.
What they said "Our main goal is to secure a spot at the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Poland. We are in a very tough group and each match will present us with great challenges, but at the same time it provides us with a great opportunity to improve ourselves." Japan head coach Masanaga Kageyama
Groups A: Indonesia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Chinese Taipei B: Japan, Iraq, Thailand, Korea DPR C: Vietnam, Korea Republic, Australia, Jordan D: Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, China, Malaysia