AFC U19 Championship: 5 standout players from the group stages

The first phase of the AFC U19 Championship is over, as eight teams move on to the next round. However, this particular phase has been witness to some brilliant attacking football. Football which has made fans jump off their seats. 

And so, we at FOX Sports Asia look at 5 standout performers who have lit up the competition so far. 

#1 Witan Sulaeman (Indonesia)

When the tournament began, all eyes were on Indonesia’s Egy Maulana Vikri. The youngster has been the crown jewel for Indonesia’s youth teams and also recently became one of the few from Southeast Asia to sign for a European club.

However, during the group-stage, it was Egy Maulana’s teammate, Witan Sulaiman, who stole his thunder and helped the Garuda navigate a tricky group.

17-year-old Witan netted his first two goals in Indonesia’s opening match of the competition, as they beat Chinese Taipei 3-1. He then added another in their final group game against UAE, a goal which ultimately secured the Garuda’s passage to the quarterfinal.

Witan scored his three goals with just 5 shots on target, while also maintaining a shooting accuracy of 83.3% (shots on target/ shots taken). Moreover, he also provided with 4 key passes and completed 8 dribbles across three matches.

#2 Koki Saito (Japan)

Picture Credit: AFC

Holders Japan came into the competition full of confidence. The Samurai Blue had won their first-ever AFC U19 Championship last time around but were one of the favourites to repeat the feat this year.

During the group stage, Japan transformed into a fluid attacking side, displaying some of the best football in this edition of the competition. The 2016 U19 winners netted 13 goals in just three games, as they progressed comfortably.

It’s hard to point out a definite star in the Japanese team but one player who shined more than most was forward Koki Saito. The youngster played just 163 minutes across the group stage but still manage to have a hand in 5 of Japan’s 13 goals!

Saito scored 3 and created 2, all the while mesmerising with his sublime skill.

#3 Hashim Ali (Qatar)

Picture Credit: AFC

One of the more surprising elements of this year’s AFC U19 Championship has been Qatar’s form. The 2022 World Cup hosts have so far been a sleeping giant in terms of football. However, if this is the sign of things to come, we can’t help but stay excited.

The 2014 U19 champions are the second highest scorers in this year’s competition with 11 goals. However, 9 out of those 11 goals so far, were shared between just two of their players!

One of them is Hashim Ali. The youngster has been in scintillating for Felix Sanchez’s side, scoring 4 goals from just 6 shots on target, so far in the competition. The forward has also completed 7 dribbles. However, what makes him a standout performer so far is his work rate. Despite being an attacker, Ali has done his defensive duties when called upon, indicated by his 5 tackles (100% tackle rate), 1 clearance, and 2 interceptions.

#4 Abdulrasheed Umaru (Qatar)

Picture Credit: AFC

Yet another standout performer in this year’s U19 Championship has been Ali’s strike partner Abdulrasheed Umaru. The forward has been by far the best attacker in this years competition and has 5 goals to his name. He is, therefore, the top scorer in this goal-heavy tournament.

Umaru also has an assist, 4 key passes, and 80% passing accuracy to his name, indicating a more complete game in terms of ‘forward play’.

Along with Ali, Umaru has formed a terrifying strike partnership which can cause any defence to run scared. He has been one of the best performers of the group stages but can he lead his team to the coveted championship title?

#5 Suphanat Mueanta (Thailand)

Picture Credit: AFC

60 minutes into matchday 1 and Thailand’s hopes of going deep into the competition were already fading. They had been subjected to an Iraq onslaught, with the West Asian side 3-1. Thailand’s coach Issara Sritaro decided to shake things up and send in 16-year-old Suphanat Muenta.

Suphanat’s introduction changed the complexion of the game, as the War Elephants began ramping up the pressure. Iraq finally caved in the 87th minute, allowing Korrawit to make it 3-2. Moments later, Suphanat popped up to make it 3-3.

The youngster’s goal quickly turned Thailand’s fortunes around and helped them make it into the next round. Suphanat himself scored one more goal and added another assist to his tally, despite just getting 163 minuted of game time.

He also made 5 key passes, displaying attacking intent and maintained a passing accuracy of over 70%.