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Five Players to Watch

Saturday, January 6, 2018
Wei Shihao China PR - AFP

Changzhou: The AFC U23 Championship China 2018 kick-off is just days away and, as the best young talent from across the continent gather in China for this year’s competition, we take a look at five players likely to make a significant impact.

Wei Shihao (China PR)

After securing an increased amount of game time with Shanghai SIPG towards the end of the 2017 Chinese Super League season, Wei Shihao made a name for himself in Japan in December at the East Asian Championship when, in his first game for the senior national team, he scored against Korea Republic.

The pacey left sided attacker, who spent two seasons with Portuguese side Leixoes, was on target again in his side’s draw with DPR Korea as he highlighted his potential importance to the national team and showed impressive form ahead of China’s hosting of the AFC U23 Championship.

Akram Afif (Qatar)

Qatar’s creative fulcrum Akram Afif has already made his mark at both age group and senior level, having won the AFC U-19 Championship in 2014 before helping his nation to the semi-finals of the 2016 AFC U23 Championship.

Previously based in Spain with Villarreal and Sporting Gijon, he is currently in Belgium with KAS Eupen and the goal scoring midfielder is a fixture in his country’s senior national side as the Qataris begin to build towards the country’s hosting of the FIFA World Cup 2022.

Supachok Sarachat (Thailand)

Attacking midfielder Supachok Sarachat has graduated to Thailand’s squad for the 2018 AFC U23 Championship after impressing throughout the last 18 months for both club and country, making his mark at the 2016 AFC U-19 Championship as well as with Buriram United.

Supachok was a key member of the Buriram side that won the domestic crown in 2017, with his performances landing him the country’s Young Player of the Year Award to go alongside two Thai league titles in the last three seasons. His form has also seen him make his debut for Thailand’s senior side, when he was called up for Milovan Rajevac’s squad in August.

Hussain Ali (Iraq)

Right winger Hussain Ali promises to be one of the standout players of the 2018 AFC U23 Championship after being called into Abdul Ghani Shahad’s squad following an impressive showing for his senior national side at the 26th Gulf Cup in Kuwait, where he was named the Most Valuable Player in all three of his country’s group matches.

The Al Zawraa star, who is known for his ability with the ball at his feet, had earlier shone for his country in the qualifying phase of the AFC U23 Championship, scoring against Saudi Arabia as the Iraqis advanced to the Finals while also making his senior team debut in 2017, when he was called up for a friendly meeting with Syria in August.

Keita Endo (Japan)

Japan come into the 2018 AFC U23 Championship as defending champions and, as coach Hajime Moriyasu builds towards his country’s hosting of the Olympic Games in 2020, he will place significant faith in highly rated midfielder Keita Endo.

The Yokohama F Marinos wide man has grown in stature over the two seasons since making his debut for his club and, with more than 50 appearances in domestic competition despite being just 20 years of age, his experience will be important as Japan seek to retain the title.

Photos: AFP & AFC