AFC U23: Stars of the future take centre stage…

Asia’s future football stars will look to clinch their place at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro when the AFC U23 Championship begins in Doha tomorrow Tuesday.

A total of 16 teams will be battling for the three places available for Asian sides in Rio and today Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, the AFC President, urged football fans to catch a glimpse of Asian football’s exciting future.

The AFC President said: “There is no doubt that Asia has some outstanding young football talent – that has already been obvious at the FIFA Under-20 and FIFA Under-17 tournaments where Asian teams have performed creditably.

“Now the AFC U23 Championship offers a chance to see stars in the making – the players who will be pushing for places in the FIFA World Cup 2018 and the Asian Cup 2019, as well as this summer’s Olympic Games.

“With the second FIFA World Cup in Asia on the horizon, as Qatar is hosting the tournament in 2022, tournaments like the AFC U23 are vital. They highlight what Asia can offer on the international stage and help boost development and grassroots on the continent.

“In London in 2012 Asian teams performed above expectation, with Korea Republic and Japan finishing third and fourth in the men’s competition and Japan’s women being runners-up in their event. I am sure that Asia will be strong again in Rio.”

The tournament kicks off tomorrow with the hosts Qatar taking on China, while in the other group A fixture Syria take on IR Iran. The winners of the equivalent event in 2014, Iraq, begin their defence against Yemen on Wednesday.

Among the players taking part is Dostonbek Kharmdamov of Uzbekistan who was recently named the AFC Youth Player of the Year 2015 at the glittering awards ceremony in Delhi last November. Uzbekistan begin their campaign against Korea Republic also on Wednesday.

The top three sides will qualify for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, with the final on January 30 in Doha.