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The Contenders: Group D


Thursday, January 4, 2018
Korea Republic v Vietnam - AFC U23 Championship Qualifiers (3)

Kunshan: As the AFC U23 Championship China 2018 edges ever closer, the-AFC.com rounds off its profiles of the 16 teams gunning for continental glory by taking a closer look at the four sides in Group D.


Korea Republic



Best finish: Runners-up (2016)



How they qualified: Winners – Group I

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Having bettered their fourth-place finish in the inaugural competition in 2014, Korea Republic head into the AFC U23 Championship looking to go a step further once more and improve on their runners-up placing in Qatar two years ago.



Beaten by Japan in the final in Doha at the 2016 edition, the East Asians had begun the tournament with a 2-1 win over Uzbekistan in Group C, before Kwon Chang-hoon netted a hat-trick in a 5-0 victory over Yemen.



The young Taeguk Warriors then advanced to the knockout rounds as table-toppers following a 1-1 draw with defending champions Iraq, and a 1-0 win over Jordan in the quarter-final secured a date with the hosts in the last four.



Late goals from Kwon and Moon Chang-jin claimed a 3-1 victory and a place at the 2016 Olympic Games, before Kwon and Jin Sung-wook put them two up in the final against Japan.



However, a second-half collapse saw the young Samurai Blue net three times without reply as Japan were crowned the second AFC U-23 champions after a thrilling finale.



Two years earlier in Oman, Korea Republic advanced to the quarter-finals after finishing in second place in Group A, behind Jordan, before defeating Syria 2-1 in the quarter-finals.



But after being eliminated 1-0 by Iraq in the semi-finals, the South Koreans lost 3-2 to Jordan on penalties in the third-place play-off following a goalless draw after extra-time.



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Two years earlier in Oman, Korea Republic advanced to the quarter-finals after finishing in second place in Group A, behind Jordan, before defeating Syria 2-1 in the quarter-finals.



But after being eliminated 1-0 by Iraq in the semi-finals, the South Koreans lost 3-2 to Jordan on penalties in the third-place play-off following a goalless draw after extra-time.



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Australia



Best finish: Quarter-finals (2014)



How they qualified: Winners – Group F

A group stage elimination at the 2016 AFC U23 Championship would not have been on the agenda for the young Australia side that travelled to Qatar two years ago, and the men in green and gold will be keen to make up for that disappointment in China.



The Australians kicked off their qualifying campaign for the 2018 tournament with a 2-0 victory over Brunei Darussalam in Yangon last July to set the early pace in Group F, before George Blackwood and Milislav Popovic netted braces in a 7-0 win against Singapore.



Hosts Myanmar were keeping pace, though, and Australia went into their final group outing knowing defeat could see their qualification hopes dashed at the expense of their opponents, who had also earlier beaten Singapore and Brunei.



An early goal from Bruce Kamau helped settle any Australian nerves before Western Sydney Wanderers pair Jonathan Aspropotamitis and Jaushua Sotirio added further strikes to secure a 3-0 victory and a place at China 2018.



Two years ago in Qatar, Australia failed to make it out of a group comprising the United Arab Emirates, Vietnam and Jordan.



But the inaugural tournament in Oman had proven more successful as Australia advanced to the last eight following wins over Kuwait and the Islamic Republic of Iran. A 2-1 defeat to eventual runners-up Saudi Arabia, though, brought their campaign to a premature end.




Syria



Best finish: Quarter-finals (2014)



How they qualified: Runners-up – Group C

Syria's budding talents will head to China for the AFC U23 Championship looking to get inspired by their seniors, who went through an extraordinary run to the 2018 FIFA World Cup play-offs.



Some of the stars of the current senior team were prominent members of the U-23 squad when Syria reached the quarter-finals of the 2013 AFC U-22 Championship in Oman.



Nassouh Al Nakdali, Hamid Mido and Mardik Mardikian all scored as Syria topped Group B with an unbeaten record before going down 2-1 to Korea Republic in the quarter-finals.



Two years later in Qatar, the Syrian squad was headlined by the presence of the rising talent Omar Khribin, but lost 2-0 to Iran in their opening game.



The Qasioun Eagles then bounced back with a 3-1 win over China, as Khribin rose to the occasion with a brace while Mahmoud Al Baher also scored late on.



Facing a must-win game against hosts Qatar in their final group fixture, Syria started strongly with Yousef Kalfa's fourth-minute goal, only to fall 3-1 behind before the game eventually finished 4-2.



Paired in Group C of the 2018 qualifying campaign, Syria beat India 2-0 before ending scoreless with Turkmenistan. A 1-1 stalemate with Qatar on the final day meant that Syria progressed to a third successive championship as one of the best-placed runners-up.




Vietnam



Best finish: Group stage (2016)



How they qualified: Runners-up – Group F

Vietnam return to the AFC U23 Championship for the second tournament running after they made their competition debut two years ago in Qatar.



Three defeats at the group stage and an elimination without picking up a point does not tell the full story of a side that battled hard in Doha.



A difficult start in Group D saw Jordan go three goals up by the 72nd minute, but Do Duy Manh did net Vietnam’s maiden goal at the tournament three minutes from the end in a 3-1 defeat.



Australia defeated Vietnam 2-0 in the second game, before the Southeast Asians signed off by more than playing their part in a thrilling 3-2 reversal to the United Arab Emirates.



In last July’s qualifiers for the 2018 edition, Vietnam’s current generation impressed, comprehensively defeating Timor-Leste 4-0 in their Group I opener before a resounding 8-1 victory over Macau.



The biggest test of all was the final round of qualifiers against former finalists Korea Republic in front of 18,000 fans at Ho Chi Minh City’s Thong Nhat Stadium, where Vietnam acquitted themselves well in a narrow 2-1 loss.



The Southeast Asian Games in Malaysia came just a month after the qualifiers and Nguyen Cong Phuong was among the goals in heavy group stage wins over Timor-Leste, Cambodia and the Philippines.



However, a draw against Indonesia and a 3-0 defeat to Thailand meant Vietnam narrowly missed out on semi-final qualification.