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Kuala Lumpur: Teams from the length and breadth of Asia are set to begin their quest to reach the AFC U-23 Championship China 2018 when the first round of qualifiers kick-off on Saturday, July 15. 

With a thrilling few days of continental action set to unfold, join the-AFC.com as we run the rule over the opening fixtures.


Group winners will automatically qualify for next year’s AFC U-23 Championship in China. The five best runners-up across all groups will also qualify for the finals. However, if China win their group or are among the best five runners-up, the sixth best runner-up will also qualify. 


READ MORE: 5 Stars Who Shone at the AFC U-23 Championship qualifiers

Group A
Host nation Kyrgyz Republic and the Islamic Republic of Iran will open proceedings in Group A, with the Iranians eager to lay down an early marker in a three-team group that also includes Oman. At the 2016 edition in Qatar, Iran went out in the quarter-finals to eventual champions Japan, and an early success against Kyrgyz Republic - who have never progressed beyond the competition’s qualifying stage - will edge them ever closer to a third successive finals appearance.  

KYRGYZ REPUBLIC v ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN
Venue: Dolen Omurzakov Stadium, Bishkek
Kick-off: July 19, 19:00 UTC+6

Group B
Riyadh’s Prince Faisal Bin Fahd Stadium will provide the backdrop when 2014 champions Iraq and Afghanistan lock horns in Group B’s opening fixture on Wednesday, July 19. Having also finished third two years ago in Qatar, all eyes will be on the highly regarded Iraqis who are no doubt eager to register a convincing win against their less experienced opponents from South Asia. The day’s later game sees qualifying hosts and 2014 runners-up Saudi Arabia face regional rivals Bahrain at the same venue.

IRAQ v AFGHANISTAN
Venue: Prince Faisal Bin Fahd Stadium, Riyadh
Kick-off: July 19, 17:55 UTC+3

SAUDI ARABIA v BAHRAIN
Venue: Prince Faisal Bin Fahd Stadium, Riyadh
Kick-off: July 19, 20:55 UTC+3

Group C
India travel to Qatar for their Group C opener against Syria on the back of two friendly matches against Singapore - winning one and losing the other. Unlike Syria, who appeared at the 2014 and 2016 U-23 finals, India are yet to progress further than the qualifiers, something head coach Stephen Constantine is looking to change this time around. With home advantage potentially key, Qatar begin their campaign against a Turkmenistan side fully aware of the fourth-place finish the West Asians achieved on home soil in 2016.

SYRIA v INDIA
Venue: Al Sadd Stadium, Doha
Kick-off: July 19, 17:00 UTC+3

QATAR v TURKMENISTAN
Venue: Al Sadd Stadium, Doha
Kick-off: July 19, 20:00 UTC+3

Group D
The United Arab Emirates and Nepal will have the honour of getting the qualifiers underway when they meet at the Tahnon Bin Mohamed Stadium in Al Ain on Saturday, July 15. With a talented squad at their disposal, the UAE harbour high hopes of booking their ticket to China and improving on the nation’s two previous quarter-final exits. In the group’s other opening fixture, Lebanon are set to face Uzbekistan who – like the UAE - appeared at the tournament’s 2014 and 2016 editions.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES v NEPAL
Venue: Tahnon Bin Mohamed Stadium, Al Ain City
Kick-off: July 15, 18:25 UTC+4

UZBEKISTAN v LEBANON
Venue: Tahnon Bin Mohamed Stadium, Al Ain City
Kick-off: July 15, 21:15 UTC+4

Group E
Jordan will be looking to draw on previous AFC U-23 Championship qualifying experience when they begin their quest to reach China 2018 from a group that includes three teams yet to reach the tournament’s final stages. The Jordanians, who finished third in 2014 and were quarter-finalists two years later in Qatar, begin their latest campaign against Bangladesh, while host nation Palestine - sure to be spurred on by their vociferous home support - tackle Tajikistan on the same day.

JORDAN v BANGLADESH
Venue: Faisal Al Husseini Stadium, West Bank
Kick-off: July 19, 16:30 UTC+2

TAJIKISTAN v PALESTINE
Venue: Faisal Al Husseini Stadium, West Bank
Kick-off: July 19, 19:30 UTC+2

Group F
Myanmar provides the venue for Group F, with the Southeast Asian hosts looking to repeat their 2014 exploits by qualifying for the tournament finals. Regional rivals Singapore are Myanmar’s opening day opponents, while Australia, who disappointingly exited at the Group Stage in 2016 after reaching the last eight two years earlier, will face Brunei Darussalam in the group’s first fixture at the Thuwunna Stadium in Yangon.

AUSTRALIA v BRUNEI DARUSSALAM
Venue: Thuwunna Stadium, Yangon
Kick-off: July 19, 15:00 UTC+6:30

MYANMAR v SINGAPORE
Venue: Thuwunna Stadium, Yangon
Kick-off: July 19, 18:00 UTC+6:30

Group G
DPR Korea will be buoyed by home advantage as they seek to qualify for a third successive finals. Last year’s quarter-final finish in Qatar was the furthest the side have gone in the tournament, something the East Asians will be looking to improve should they reach China 2018. The Koreans are scheduled to face Hong Kong in their opener on Wednesday, while Laos tackle Chinese Taipei in the day’s earlier game.

LAOS v CHINESE TAIPEI
Venue: May Day Stadium, Pyongyang
Kick-off: July 19, 15:00 UTC+8:30

DPR KOREA v HONG KONG
Venue: May Day Stadium, Pyongyang
Kick-off: July 19, 15:00 UTC+8:30

Group H
Hosts Thailand have already been installed by many as favourites to seal top spot in Group H, although it would be foolhardy to dismiss fellow challengers Indonesia. Malaysia and Mongolia. The Thais, who memorably appeared at the 2016 AFC U-23 Championship where they narrowly missed out on a place in the last eight, will entertain Mongolia on Matchday One, with regional bragging rights up for grabs when Indonesia take on Malaysia on the same day.

INDONESIA v MALAYSIA
Venue: Supachalasai National Stadium, Bangkok
Kick-off: July 19, 16:00 UTC+7

THAILAND v MONGOLIA
Venue: Supachalasai National Stadium, Bangkok
Kick-off: July 19, 16:00 UTC+7

Group I
Korea Republic and Macau will meet in Group I’s opening encounter, with the Koreans eager to start atoning for their disappointment from two years ago when, despite leading 2-0 with 47 minutes played, they ended up losing 3-2 to Japan in the final. The Koreans’ biggest rival for pole position would appear to be host nation Vietnam who qualified for Qatar 2016 but failed to make it beyond the Group Stage.

KOREA REPUBLIC v MACAU
Venue: Thong Nhat Stadium, Ho Chi Minh
Kick-off: July 19, 17:00 UTC+7

VIETNAM v TIMOR-LESTE
Venue: Thong Nhat Stadium, Ho Chi Minh
Kick-off: July 19, 17:00 UTC+7

Group J
Japan will embark on the defence of the title they won in 2016 with a Group J opener against the highly regarded Philippines on Wednesday. The Japanese shone brightly in Qatar en route to title success, and many observers believe more of the same may be about to come from the Samurai Blue. China, who have of course already qualified for the 2018 event as hosts, will face Cambodia in their opener.

JAPAN v PHILIPPINES
Venue: National Olympic Stadium , Phnom Penh
Kick-off: 15:30 UTC+7

CHINA v CAMBODIA
Venue: National Olympic Stadium , Phnom Penh
Kick-off: 15:30 UTC+7

Photo: AFC

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