Ones To Watch: Group C
Kuala Lumpur: The young White Wolf, a solid pair of hands, and two players with European experience looking to finally fulfill their potential, are the ones to keep an eye on in Group C of the AFC U23 Championship Thailand 2020.
Songkhla is set to feature a feast of football with five of Group C's six fixtures taking place in southern Thailand. Taking to the field at Tinsulanon Stadium will be defending champions Uzbekistan, perennial contenders Korea Republic, China PR and Islamic Republic of Iran.
We have picked out four players capable of shining in Songkhla.
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Already an AFC U-23 Championship winner in China in 2018, Alijonov, 22, has been a constant feature in the FC Pakhtakor line-up since his late teens, starting in all eight of the club’s 2019 AFC Champions League matches, and appearing regularly as Shota Arveladze’s side romped to a 20-point Uzbekistan Super League triumph.
A full senior international as of June 2019, the mobile full-back helps his teams in both defence and attack, and – as one of six returning players from the victorious 2018 squad – will be looked upon as one of Uzbekistan’s on-field leaders as they defend their title.
Korea Republic, Goalkeeper
Famed for their production of top quality goalkeepers, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors' Song Bum-keun, 22, is set to follow, and potentially surpass, a long line of standout Korea Republic custodians.
Already well known among aficionados of the K.League, the man who only made his professional debut in February 2018 has excelled in the domestic championship – he is already the owner of two league winners' medals – and the last two editions of the AFC Champions League.
China PR, Forward
Zhang Yuning (above, left) has been long spoken about as the future of China's forward line but has yet to show his full ability when it comes to the big stage. Turning 23 in January, the AFC U23 Championship Thailand 2020 could be his opportunity to fulfil his potential.
A footballing education that has taken in stints in Netherlands and Germany, Zhang returned to China in early 2019 and will hope that, after a season at Beijing FC where he enjoyed a consistent run of games, he can make an impact at the highest Continental level.
IR Iran, Midfielder
The IR Iran skipper during the AFC U23 Championship Thailand 2020 Qualifiers, Omid Noorafkan (above, centre) has been touted as a talent ever since he became the youngest player to appear for Tehran giants Esteghlal as an 18-year-old in December 2015.
Since then, the midfielder moved to Charleroi in Belguim (June, 2018) but enjoyed renewed success upon returning to Isfahan side Sepahan on loan in 2019. The anchor of the young Team Melli side, who usually plays in front of the defensive line, Noorafkan will look to improve Iran's tournament best of a quarter-final finish.
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