FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan looks back at ten hot prospects from the 2013 AFC U-22 Championship who went on to fulfil their potential.
2013 saw the birth of Asian football’s highest age-group tournament as the Asian Football Confederation introduced the AFC U-22 Championship, which has since been amended to an Under-23 tournament.
While Iraq won the inaugural edition of the competition, there were plenty of youngsters who caught the eye and were immediately tipped for great things.
But just how many went on to deliver on their potential?
Here, FOX Sports Asia looks at ten players from the 2013 AFC U-22 Championship whom fans may now be very familiar with.
1) ALIREZA BEIRANVAND (IRAN)
Back in 2013, Alireza Beiranvand was a young goalkeeper featuring for Iran at the AFC U-22 Championship while plying his trade in the relatively humble settings of Naft Tehran.
Fast forward seven years and the towering 1.94-metre custodian is now one of Asia’s best shot-stoppers regularly starring for Iranian giants Persepolis, and gained international acclaim back in the summer of 2018 when he memorably saved a penalty from Cristiano Ronaldo at the FIFA World Cup.
2) TAKUMA ASANO (JAPAN)
Considering he signed for Arsenal in 2016 and never made an appearance for the Premier League outfit, some would perhaps feel that Takuma Asano never lived up to those lofty expectations.
Nonetheless, considering the ex-Sanfrecce Hiroshima man has since gone to feature prominently in the Bundesliga for Stuttgart and Hannover before recently joining Serbian giants Partizan Belgrade, he is certainly playing his part in flying the flag for Japan and the wider continent on the European stage.
3) AUNG THU (MYANMAR)
The golden boy of Myanmar for the past six years now, Aung Thu has certainly made all the right moves since he broke onto the scene as a hot prospect that was part of the team that famously reached the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup.
Myanmar have produced plenty of exports to various Southeast Asian leagues in recent times but Aung Thu remains the standard bearer, having enjoyed plenty of success in the Thai League 1 with Police Tero and Muangthong United.
4) ABDULLAH OTAYF (SAUDI ARABIA)
At the last World Cup in 2018, Saudi Arabia managed to claim a win as they beat Egypt 2-1 in their final Group A game, even if they ultimately failed to reach the Round of 16.
One man that was a consistent contributor throughout was defensive midfielder Abdullah Otayf, and his composure and precise distribution already apparent even when he was a 21-year-old playing at the 2013 AFC U-22 Championship.
5) CHRIS IKONOMIDIS (AUSTRALIA)
When Chris Ikonomidis featured for Australia at the 2013 AFC U-22 Championship, he was already on the books of Serie A outfit Lazio despite being just 18.
Following loan spells at Salernitana and AGF, the winger spent time with Western Sydney Wanderers before making a permanent return to the A-League with Perth Glory, where he won the Premiership last season while also impressing at the Asian Cup last January.
6) HWANG UI-JO (KOREA REPUBLIC)
Hwang Ui-jo may only have scored one goal for Korea Republic’s U-22 team back at the AFC Championship in 2013, but he has since established himself as one of his nation’s top striking options.
The 27-year-old is currently playing in Ligue 1 with Bordeaux and is also the senior national team’s primary option as the main striker, often linking up well with the likes of Son Heung-min, Hwang Hee-chan and Lee Jae-sung.
7) OMAR KHARBIN (SYRIA)
Omar Kharbin was only 19 when he was selected to feature at the 2013 AFC U-22 Championship, but he has always shown predatory instinct in front of goal even from a tender age.
Despite some recent injury woes, he looks on the way back to top form as he approaches his peak and it was only just over two years ago when his dominant displays for Al Hilal and Syria saw him named the 2017 Asian Footballer of the Year.
8) PAK KWANG-RYONG (DPR KOREA)
In recent years, DPR Korea have been a common feature in AFC tournaments at both senior and age-group level and – back in 2013 – they were unlucky not to qualify for the knockout stage of the AFC U-22 Championship after missing out by a point.
A number of that youthful side are now established stalwarts but Pak Kwang-ryong is comfortably the standout, having carved out a career in Europe that once saw him take on Manchester United in the UEFA Champions League while at Basel.
9) ALI SALMEEN (UNITED ARAB EMIRATES)
As hosts of last year’s Asian Cup, United Arab Emirates did well to reach the semi-finals before losing to eventual champions Qatar and Ali Salmeen was a consistent performer as he played every single minute of their run to the last four.
Back in 2013 at the tender age of 18, Salmeen was already getting a taste of top-level international competition and looks set to be a key player for the UAE over the next decade.
10) HUMAM TARIQ (IRAQ)
Humam Tariq was part of the Iraq side that won the AFC U-22 Championship in 2013 but they were unable to repeat the success three years later, falling to a semi-final exit at the hands of Japan.
Plenty of youngsters from that team have since broken into the senior squad including Humam, whose brilliant playmaking ability has since seen him move abroad – first to Iran with Esteghlal and then to present club Ismaily in the Egyptian Premier League.