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Afghanistan, Japan determined to make history

Tabriz: Afghanistan and Japan will take centre stage at the Pour Sharifi Indoor Stadium on Saturday with both teams determined to lift their inaugural AFC U-20 Futsal Championship title. 

The match promises to be a cracker, as both sides overcame stiff challenges in the semi-finals to advance to their first final, which kicks off at 1830 hours (local time).

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Goals scored: 15
Conceded: 9
Top scorer: Seyed Hossein Mousavi (6 goals)

Afghanistan opened their campaign with an emphatic 6-1 win over Hong Kong, before suffering a narrow 3-2 defeat to host nation Islamic Republic of Iran to finish as Group B runners-up.


Afghanistan: All you need to know

Buoyed by their performance against defending champions Iran, Afghanistan defeated Thailand - who finished third two years ago - 3-2 in the quarter-finals with three first half goals.

Group D winners Indonesia, who defeated 2017 runners-up Iraq 2-1 in their quarter-final, were up next.

While the young Garuda managed to push the game into extra time, goals from Seyed Hossein Mousavi and Dawood Yousufi earned Afghanistan a 4-3 win and their place in the final.

Afghanistan have already achieved a number of firsts but head coach Abdul Razaq Momrak wants his players to take the trophy home.

“Winning the championship will inspire the young players. We have made it to the final despite various shortcomings. We have matched the best teams in Asia,” said Momrak.

“Being successful against these teams will help the self-esteem of the younger generation. And from our result tomorrow, we hope to bring unity and pride to the people of Afghanistan.”

Momrak, however, is fully aware of how dangerous Japan will be, but his confidence in his own side outweighs his worries.

“We’re thinking of winning the game for sure, and don’t want to lose this chance of winning this Championship, because we’ve experienced a difficult path heading into this final,” said Momrak.

Goals scored: 15
Conceded: 6
Top scorers: Otsuka Hiroto and Osawa Masashi (2 goals each)


All you need to know: Japan

The young Samurai Blue have been impressive in Tabriz, reaching the knockout stage as Group C winners with wins over Vietnam and Tajikistan.

Their 2-0 quarter-final win over Iraq was a thriller, as Japan avenged the 1-0 loss suffered in the 2017 quarter-finals to the West Asians.

Japan faced a real challenge in the semi-finals as awaiting them were defending champions Iran. It was a match that had everything - goals, last minute penalties, extra time action and power play.

The East Asians were trailing by a goal until the final 40 seconds of the match, and were awarded a penalty which Motoishi Takehiro converted to send the game into extra time. Japan then switched gears and powered to four goals to dethrone Iran and reach the final.

Head coach Ryuji Suzuki believes his side’s strength lies in how quickly they adjust their style of play.

“We have to adapt to the game’s situation, whether we're at an advantage or at a disadvantage,” said Suzuki, a former Japan futsal international.

“Our team is getting better after every match. Every game wasn’t easy to win, and our players have grown in every aspect, from analysing our opponents, to adapting to different situations, and in our teamwork.”

Japan, said Suzuki, want to win the title but will not let that consume them.

“I am satisfied that our team qualified for the knockout phase and of course, the final. However, our team isn’t just thinking about the title, but focuses on playing their best game in the tournament, which in turn means winning the tournament.

“Japan’s mentality emulates the ‘samurai spirit’, of trying our best from the beginning till the end of a game, and never giving up.”

Photos: AFC

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