FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan looks back at ten hot prospects from the 2016 AFC U-23 Championship who went on to fulfil their potential.
Four years ago, the second edition of the AFC U-23 Championship – which initially started out as an Under-22 competition – took place in Qatar and it was Japan who emerged triumphant, beating Korea Republic 3-2 in a thrilling final.
That Samurai Blue team boasted plenty of hot prospects who have since gone on to develop as expected, including a certain Red Bull Salzburg forward who recently sealed a January move to English giants Liverpool.
But just how well did the talent on offer – from the competition as a whole – fare?
FOX Sports Asia looks at ten prominent names in Asian football right now who first came to the fore at the 2016 AFC U-23 Championship.
1) ABDELKARIM HASSAN (QATAR)
The 2018 AFC Player of the Year, Abdelkarim Hassan was the senior member of a Qatar side that were brimming with potential, also boasting the likes of Akram Afif, Almoez Ali, Bassam Al-Rawi and Assim Madibo.
All five were part of the senior team that went on to win the AFC Asian Cup last January, and Abdelkarim – despite some recent on-field disciplinary problems – remains one of the continent’s best full-backs.
2) CHANATHIP SONGKRASIN (THAILAND)
Undoubtedly Thailand’s most-important player at the moment and arguably Southeast Asia’s biggest star for the past five years or so, Chanathip Songkrasin has gone from a precocious, pint-sized prospect into a star of one of the continent’s strongest competitions.
Named in the J1 League’s Best XI in 2018 after a fine season with Consadole Sapporo, Chanathip already had plenty of senior experience when he skippered the Thai U-23s back in 2016, having played a leading role in their 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup triumph just over a year prior.
3) TAKUMI MINAMINO (JAPAN)
A man who now needs no introduction, Takumi Minamino is currently preparing for his next escapade having secured a £7.25million move to Liverpool after five and a half impressive seasons with Red Bull Salzburg.
Back in 2016, he was having a different adventure as part of the Japan team which claimed their first-ever AFC U-23 crown, sharing the stage with other now-recognisable names such as Yuya Kubo, Naomichi Ueda and tournament Most Valuable Player (MVP) Shoya Nakajima.
4) HWANG HEE-CHAN (KOREA REPUBLIC)
Red Bull Salzburg certainly had an affinity with the 2016 AFC U-23 Championship as they boasted two players who featured, with the second being Korea Republic’s Hwang Hee-chan.
Hwang, who is also tipped for a move to the Premier League with Wolves reportedly interested, has firmly established himself as a capable performer at club level in Europe and his national team, having played at both the 2018 FIFA World Cup and AFC Asian Cup 2019.
5) MILAD MOHAMMADI (IRAN)
Milad Mohammadi may not be the biggest name in the Iran team at the moment compared to the likes of Sardar Azmoun and Karim Ansarifard, but there are certainly no doubts over his credentials as a player who has featured at the 2018 World Cup and spent the past four seasons in the Russian Premier League with Akhmat Grozny.
The all-action left-back decided to explore greener pastures last summer as is now featuring in the Belgian First Division A with Gent, where he coincidentally shares a dressing room with another who featured at the 2016 AFC U-23 Championship in Japanese striker Kubo.
6) JAMIE MACLAREN (AUSTRALIA)
Australia had a disappointing AFC U-23 campaign in 2016 as failed to reach the knockout round after finishing 3rd in Group D, with Jamie Maclaren netting one of just two goals they netted in total.
Now 26, Maclaren went on to enjoy spells in Germany and Scotland with Darmstadt 98 and Hibernian respectively before returning to his homeland to join Melbourne City, where he has since produced some prolific scoring form.
7) NGUYEN CONG PHUONG (VIETNAM)
Before the emergence of Nguyen Quang Hai, Vietnamese football’s two great hopes were Nguyen Cong Phuong and Luong Xuan Truong and, while the latter has stagnated in recent years, the former remains on course to going far.
Cong Phuong may not have seen as much first-team football as he would like on loan at Belgian outfit Sint-Truiden but at least continues to contribute regularly at international level, having netted twice at last January’s Asian Cup.
8) FAHAD AL-MUWALLAD (SAUDI ARABIA)
It is impressive that Fahad Al-Muwallad has over 50 senior caps to his name considering he is still only 25, and even made two La Liga appearances during a loan spell with Levante in 2018.
Al-Muwallad, who netted once at the 2016 AFC U-23 Championship in a 3-3 draw with DPR Korea, arguably plays his best football in a wide attacking berth but has admirably filled in as the focal point in attack for both club and country on numerous occasions.
9) ELDOR SHOMURODOV (UZBEKISTAN)
Eldor Shomurodov was one of the revelations at Asian Cup 2019 as he almost singlehandedly fired Uzbekistan to the Round of 16 with four goals in three group matches, emerging as one of the continent’s dominant strikers.
Nonetheless, he was already showing glimpses of his quality from as far back as four years ago even though the Uzbeks failed to make it out of the group stage at the AFC U-23 Championship, and is now shining on the European stage with Russian side Rostov.
10) MOHANNAD ABDUL-RAHEEM (IRAQ)
It may be Mohanad Ali who has been leading the line in more recent times but, before his emergence, Mohannad Abdul-Raheem was the main man in attack for Iraq after making his international debut as a 19-year-old in 2012.
The following year, Abdul-Raheem was part of the team that won the inaugural AFC U-23 Championship – then an Under-22 tournament – and has gone on to establish himself as one of the biggest names of Iraqi football, with both the national team and current club Al Zawra’a.