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Five youngsters to watch


Kuala Lumpur: As Asia’s elite clubs prepare to embark on a history-making AFC Women’s Club Championship in Yongin, the new competition is set to provide a platform for some of the Continent’s brightest young stars.

With a shot at a maiden Continental title at stake, the-AFC.com highlights five of the brightest talents to keep an eye on at the FIFA/AFC Pilot Tournament.

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Jun Endo, 19, Nippon TV Beleza

Part of an AFC U-19 Championship winning squad as a 17-year-old in China PR two years ago, Endo burst onto the world stage with a series of brilliant performances as Japan won the 2018 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in France.

The inventive winger scored two goals and supplied four assists as Japan swept all before them, form that helped her earn a return to France as part of the senior World Cup squad the following year

Endo earned starts against Scotland and England at France 2019, and is among the three nominees for the AFC Women’s Youth Player of the Year at next week’s AFC Annual Awards in Hong Kong.


Grace Maher, 20, Melbourne Victory

The youngest W-League signing in history when she joined Canberra United at the age of 15, Maher enjoyed a successful stint in the national capital – particularly in their Premiership-winning 2016-17 campaign – with the club winning three trophies in four seasons before signing for Melbourne Victory in 2018.

An important member of the Young Matildas’’ 2017 AFC U-19 Women’s Championship squad, Maher spent the Australian winter with six-time Icelandic champions KR before returning to Melbourne, for whom she has started both matches in the new W-League season.

Victory also feature a pair of talented 16-year-olds, with Alana Jancevski and Paige Zois both in with a chance of playing at the top club level after helping Australia to a semi-final appearance at September’s AFC U1-16 Championship in Thailand.


Kang Chae-rim, 21, Incheon Hyundai Steel Red Angels

Comfortable as a winger or in central midfield, Kang was the youngest player in Korea Republic’s 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup squad but played all three matches in their campaign.

Kang is capable of winning her own ball, beating defenders one on one or supplying key passes and promises to be a handful as the Red Angels look to tale their domestic dominance onto the continental stage.


Dou Jiaxing, 19, Jiangsu Suning

She may be one of the youngest players at Jiangsu Suning, but extensive international experience means Dou Jiaxing is unlikely to be overawed when she steps onto the field in Yongin this coming week.

A veteran of every one of China PR’s matches at the last two AFC U-19 Women’s Championship, she had already crossed paths with several of the players on this list, with her leadership earning her the role of team captain in the 2019 edition held earlier this month.

A central defender who is equally comfortable delivering crosses and set-pieces, Dou looks to have a bright future ahead for both club and country.


Riko Ueki, 20, Nippon TV Beleza

Last but by no means least, Nippon TV Beleza forward Ueki looks set to become one of Asian football’s brightest stars of the 2020s.

Scorer of a brilliant winning goal in the 2017 AFC U-19 Championship final against DPR Korea, Ueki was also outstanding in Japan winning the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup campaign a year later, scoring five goals in six matches as part of a superb attacking triumvirate which included Saori Takarada and club teammate Endo.

Injury robbed Ueki of a place at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France, but she is expected to be in contention for a place in the Japan squad aiming for gold at next year’s Tokyo Olympics.

Photos: FIFA via Getty Images, AFC

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