AFC U-23 Championship China 2018 groups revealed in Changzhou
Changzhou: Hosts China PR were drawn with 2016 semi-finalists Qatar, while reigning champions Japan will meet newcomers Palestine following a glittering 2018 AFC U-23 Championship China 2018 draw in Changzhou on Tuesday.
The ceremony, held at the Traders Fudu Hotel’s Zuan Shi Tin Ballroom, separated the 16 qualified teams into four groups for next January’s flagship Asian youth competition.
The hosts – automatically assigned to Group A – will also meet Qatar and Uzbekistan after opening their campaign in Changzhou against Oman on January 9.
First-time qualifiers Palestine were drawn with 2016 champions Japan, as well as DPR Korea and Thailand, while fellow debutants Malaysia drew a strong group containing Iraq, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
The draw produced a number match-ups which are sure to be highly anticipated, none more so than the match between Asian heavyweights Korea Republic and Australia, to be held in Kushan, in a Group D which also contains Syria and Vietnam.
The ceremony also revealed the tournament’s four host cities with Changzhou, Kunshan, Jiangyin and Changshu - all located in Jiangsu Province - to host the tournament’s 32 matches.
“From our hosting experience with the Chinese Football Association, we have no doubt that the 2018 AFC U23 Championship will raise the bar,” said AFC Director of Competitions Shin Man Gil, who conducted the draw.
Changzhou will act as the tournament’s headquarters, and Changzhou Olympic Sports Centre will host nine matches, including the tournament opener between China PR and Oman on January 9, and the final on January 27.
The AFC U-23 Championship is second only to the AFC Asian Cup among Asia’s men’s national team competitions, with the 2018 edition the first time it will be held in the world’s most populous country.
What they said:
Felix Sanchez Bas: Head Coach, Qatar
“When you see the teams (in the draw), we knew it would a good level. We know that playing against China is going to be a good experience, because we expect a good stadium, full of people and we know China have a good team. They have a good squad, the same as Uzbekistan, who are one of the top teams, and Oman. We expect a very high level and we are going to try to perform well. We’re going to start (our preparations) in the middle of December – in Qatar there is no league then, so its easier for us. We will play some friendlies and a few days before we will come here to adapt. I’m looking forward to starting the competition."
Ong Kim Swee: Head Coach, Malaysia
“For us, its our first time to qualify and I think to be in that group with the three Middle East countries is an advantage for them – Iraq, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. I think it’s a good experience for us. I believe that if we prepare well, we have an equal chance among the four teams. The tournament will have a different kind of intensity, and (our players) must understand that when they come to this level, they must be very, very consistent - and of course, there’s a lot of opportunities if they can do well at this tournament, and I believe it will be a stepping stone for Malaysian players to play abroad."
Luke Casserly: Head of National Teams, Australia
“We’ve obviously got a long history against Korea Republic, and recently we’ve had two very intense matches with our senior team against Syria, so it’s interesting and you always know when you come to a tournament like this that there are just no easy games in Asia, so we’re really looking forward to it. (The Australian league season) means we will have minimal preparation and the players will remain with their clubs and we will look to focus on our Australian-based players. The preparation won't be lengthy but we have the added bonus that our players should be playing (in the league) and be in good condition.
Husam Jibril Mahmoud AlRjoob: General Secretary’s Office, Palestine
“There was no easy team to be drawn against, therefore we were expecting a tough group. I’m looking forward to competing with the best and I believe we are running on the right track. We need to work hard. Our players have shown good performances throughout the qualification, and I believe we need to keep going in the same direction.”
Naif A. Alqadi: Team Manager, Saudi Arabia
“Any team who arrives to the Finals of Asia’s Under-23 competition will be a hard team and it will be difficult to play against any team at this stage. Like any international team, we will use our FIFA (match) days and we have a camp in November to find our best team.”